Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

History Repeats

 


As we noted here in December of 2013, a group of sport fishermen in Alaska are tired of sharing the fish with the rest of the state. The latest volley in the war on commercial fishing takes the form of an initiative filed by Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, Inc. (AFCA) to forbid shore gillnets or setnets in Alaska.

The initiative garnered 43,000 signatures and was delivered to the Alaska Division of Elections in June in order to get it before the voters next year.

“Restricting the commercial use of set nets in Alaska’s urban areas isn’t about attacking or competing with commercial fishermen,” AFCA says, on the corporation’s website. The initiative says otherwise:

“Except for customary and traditional use or for personal use fishing, a person may not use a shore gill net or set net to take fish in any nonsubsistence area.”

For now, nonsubsistence areas include Cook Inlet, Ketchikan, MatSu, Anchorage, Juneau and Valdez, but the wording of the initiative makes us wonder if the goal isn’t really to eliminate all gillnetting. Like the other attacks on West Coast gillnetting, AFCA claims shore gillnet and setnet fishing “…is an antiquated method of harvesting fish that indiscriminately kills or injures large numbers of non-targeted species.”

(We also wonder if a more antiquated method of harvesting fish might be dangling a hook on string.)

The Group says, “Commercial set nets indiscriminately catch any fish that passes upstream, including species that are threatened or in decline. When non-targeted species are caught, these fish are considered bycatch and legally cannot be sold or used, thus going to waste. In fact, set nets have the highest rate of bycatch of any fishing method allowed in Alaska, and they also have unacceptably high rates of mortality for fish that somehow escape the netting.”

The tactics and hyperbole used by AFCA have been used to good effect in Washington and Oregon by other environmental and sportfishing lobbies, and on the other side of the country, a similar tactic was used in Florida 20 years ago. Kevin Lollar writes in Florida’s News-Press of the 1994 Florida gillnet ban:

In 1991, Karl Wickstrom, founder and publisher of Florida Sportsman magazine, started and became chairman of a group called Save Our Sealife (SOS), which collected more than 500,000 signatures to get a constitutional amendment that would ban the use of gillnets in state waters on the 1994 ballot.

Wickstrom and other gillnet opponents, including the Florida Conservation Association (now Coastal Conservation Association Florida), said gillnets were wiping out fish stocks and killing sea turtles, dolphins and birds.”

“That’s how they won: They lied,” Pine Island commercial fisherman Mike Dooley said. “If they hadn’t had the propaganda, the amendment wouldn’t have passed. But we didn’t have the money to fight them.”

The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) mentioned above is the group that, with the collaboration of the governors of Oregon and Washington, managed to force gillnetters off the Columbia River. The rhetoric they used in Florida, Oregon and Washington was successful, and their fingerprints are all over the Alaska initiative.

As Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As a Florida fisherman said of the 1994 gillnet ban, “A bunch of people whose livelihoods don’t depend on gillnetting decided to gang up on a group that couldn’t defend itself. It’s a shame.”

chris philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285

or email: editor@fishermensnews.com

 
 

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