Fish Radio

Setnet numbers, bycatch rates refute sport claims

June 16, 2015

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Setting the record straight on Alaska setnets. That’s up after this –

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Salmon setnets are not outdated forms of fishing gear that indiscriminately kill everything in their paths. That’s the main talking point of sport fish advocates aiming to ban setnets in six regions of Alaska.

“I believe now more than ever that Alaskans want to end the devastating and outdated mode of commercial fishing called setnetting. I spent six years as a setnetter in Upper Cook Inlet and during that time I caught a lot of red salmon. However, my nets also caught sharks, birds, ducks, flounders, dolly vardens and a lot of king salmon. Setnets are decimating other species in Alaska.” 

Joe Connors is president of the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, also a Kenai lodge owner and sport fishing guide. He spoke last week when AFCA dropped off 43,000 signatures at the Division of Elections, meaning the ban could be put before Alaska voters on a 2016 ballot. If it gets enough yay votes, nets would be pulled at Cook Inlet, Mat-Su, Anchorage, Juneau, Valdez, Ketchikan, and any places designated as “urban” and “non-subsistence” in the future.

But the data don’t back up the deadly claims that the gear indiscriminately kills and threatens 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 at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.   He says bringing fish allocation issues to the ballot box is bad public policy and disregards the importance of salmon setnetting in Alaska.

“We don’t think this is the best way to  address this issue.  Setnetting in Alaska is very important to these local coastal economies. There’s’ over 2,000 statewide setnet permits. They are family based operations and run in many coastal communities. They are very important to the state for our ability to manage these sockeye, chum, pink and so on populations in these different fisheries.”

In Cook Inlet, 735 setnet permits fished, including from the MatSu Valley and Anchorage. They catch about half of the sockeye, Regnart says, and if they were not around, it would be a tough fishery to manage.

“Setnetter in Cook Inlet are an integral part of us being successful in any given year to control that sockeye run. And if they weren’t there it’s hard for me to imagine what we might do. The drift fishery can have a high exploitation rate, but typically at a certain point in the sockeye run , the fish move to the beach and they are no longer effective. Without setnetters the Board of Fish would have to address some pretty significant changes. I’m not sure how it would work out. It would be significant.”

Elsewhere in Alaska, 2,210 setnet fisheries occurred last year: Yakutat -168 permits, Prince William Sound/Valdez – 29;  Kodiak – 188, AK Peninsula has 113 setnet permits, Bristol Bay has the most at 977.

Before the setnet ban can go before the voters, it first has to make it through an Alaska Supreme Court challenge this fall. Final passage will then fall to the Alaska legislature. 

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.