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Ruffridge introduces set-net buyback companion in House

A buoy at a set-net site in Ninilchik in June.
Sabine Poux
A buoy at a set-net site in Ninilchik in June.

A new bill in the Alaska State House would create a set-net permit buyback program for Cook Inlet fisherman, building on years of similar legislation introduced by Kenai Peninsula lawmakers.

Soldotna Rep. Justin Ruffridge introduced the bill yesterday, May 8. It’s a companion to a bill Sen. Jesse Bjorkman of Nikiski introduced earlier in the legislative session, which has been making its way through the Senate. Bjorkman’s bill is a homage to legislation introduced twice by former Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche when he was in office.

The bills would give Cook Inlet east side permit holders the option to sell back their permits to the state, as the fishery declines and fewer set-netters can make a living fishing the Inlet. Those who sell their permits could recoup the money, and the area where they fished would be closed to future commercial fishing.

Set-netters have been supportive of variations of the bill over the years, and say it would create a more sustainable fishery for the remaining permit holders.

If passed, permit holders would vote on whether they even want the program, participation would be voluntary, and permits would be selected for the buyback through a lottery. The program would buy back up to 200 permits, about half of those in the fishery.

Bjorkman’s bill currently sits in Senate Finance. Ruffridge’s bill was introduced with less than two weeks left in the legislative session. It’s been referred to the House Fisheries Special Committee, but hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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