Fish Radio

Setnet ban, coal vs. salmon hearings  coming up

August 7, 2015

Water for salmon streams or AK's biggest coal mine?  Credit:

Water for salmon streams or AK’s biggest coal mine?

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch –   A ban on setnets and coal versus salmon – big hearings in coming weeks.  More after this –

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Hearings this month could change the face of Alaska’s salmon fisheries forever.  On August 21, the  state Department of Natural Resources will hear both sides on competing claims to water rights for salmon streams at Upper Cook Inlet’s Chuitna River or to a coal mine. The decision could set a state precedent.

It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine completely through a salmon stream. And the purpose is to ship coal to China. There would be no domestic use for this coal. And it’s really a very dangerous precedent because if they can do it here in Cook Inlet they will be able to do it anywhere in the state.”  

Bob Shavelson is a director at Cook Inlet Keeper, which along with the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Alaska Center for the Environment, requested the hearing. They want to protect spawning tributaries of the salmon-rich Chuitna; PacRim Coal of Delaware and Texas wants to dewater the streams and dig Alaska’s largest coal mine.

DNR  Water Chief  Dave Schade agreed that the water rights decision is precedent setting, and that it comes down  to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.”   The hearing is scheduled for August 21 at the US Federal Building Annex in Anchorage.   A decision is expected on or before October 9.

The next week will be a hearing on a setnet ban proposed for Cook Inlet and five other Alaska regions. Oral arguments before the Alaska Supreme Court are set for August 26 – at issue is whether removing setnetters is an allocative measure which is banned under the state constitution.

The measure is being pushed and bankrolled by the sports fishing group Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance.    AFCA President Joe Connors  

“I believe now more than ever that Alaskans want to end the devastating and outdated mode of commercial fishing called setnetting. It is time for setnets in urban Alaska to go away. It’s time for fish to come first. We must protect wild salmon stocks and banning setnets in nonsubsistence areas is the best way forward. 

The state of Alaska disagrees – and data don’t back up AFCA’s claims that setnets indiscriminately destroy other species.

“Looking over the last 10 years, the setnet harvest is comprised of 99.996% is salmon. So .004 would be species other than salmon.  It’s a very, very low number of other species caught, what some might consider bycatch. It’s almost not measurable.”

Jeff Regnart is Director of the Commercial Fisheries Division.  He calls bringing fish allocation issues to the ballot box bad public policy.

There are over 2,000 setnet operations in Alaska, 735 are in Cook Inlet. Pending the Court ruling, the setnet ban could be put before voters next year.

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Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. ( In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.