Senator Peter Micciche has renewed his effort to scale down the size of the East Side setnet fleet in Cook Inlet.
Senate Bill 90 would establish a program to buy back nearly half the set net permits on the east side of Cook Inlet. It would carve out a special administrative area that would allow the permit holders in that area to vote. If the majority likes it, 200 permits would be eligible for a buyback through a lottery.
Kenai Peninsula Fishermens’ Association vice president Ken Coleman testified in favor of the bill at Friday’s Senate Resources committee meeting. Before the legislative session began, he said the bill was an idea some setnetters had been discussing for awhile.
“Many of us, not just myself, but many groups have been talking about a reduction in size for a number of reasons. Economic viability being the primary driver (and) predictability and stability. What that does is allows the fishermen upstream from that, if you will, to have enhanced economic viability. And for many of the beaches, that’s something that we have striven for over the years...is to be as viable as the resource allows us to be.”
The 200 permits that would be bought back represent nearly half of all the active permits in the district. Permit holders would get $260,000 to close up shop under the current proposal. Coleman says fishermen who wouldn’t mind getting out of Cook Inlet but want to keep fishing would have other opportunities around the state.
“I think the people who felt like they’ve been marginalized over the years by changes in management plans that have put boats in particular places or reduced time on beaches have economically harmed almost everybody to some degree and some to bankruptcy. So, to the extent that they could withdraw from the fishery, voluntarily, with a fair amount of money for having closed down a business in perpetuity, is attractive to them. Many of these people have been (fishing) for a long time and they want to continue doing it.”
Sen. Micciche says there will be a provision that if someone does get accepted into the buyback program through the lottery, they’ll have a way out if they decide not to hang up there gear after all.
“Some people think about buying or selling a business that they’ve had for 10 or 15 years and think about the emotional tie to it. In this case, there will be families that have fished for five generations. This is a very emotional, significant opportunity. But what it demonstrates is that setnetters really have been looking for a solution with the sport fishing and other user group communities. But this is tough.”
Coleman said about 80 percent of the members he represents are in favor of the bill and most of the people who testified for the committee did support it, but not everyone.
David Martin from Clam Gulch fishes the central district. He told the committee he's not convinced taking those permits out of play will increase opportunity for remaining sites or do anything to quell allocation disputes with other user groups.
“This is a very divisive issue among the fishermen. Not all fishermen are in favor of this. Basically it came about from a handful of setnetters at the mouth of the Kenai river that want somebody to fund their retirement. The Department (of Fish and Game) didn’t ask for this for management. They have time and area in their management plans. This bill does not guarantee that a viable setnet fishery or more fishing time will be available. You’ll still have the groups that are trying to eliminate the commercial fisheries in Cook Inlet, the east side setnetters in particular.”
The Senate resources committee did not act on the bill, but it will be up for more consideration later in the session.