Cook Inlet fishermen sue over set-net closures

Exterior: Set-net fishermen pull a net from the water
Set-netters pick a sockeye out of the net this June. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

Days after they were ordered to take their nets out of the water, Cook Inlet set-netters are suing the state over the fishery’s closure.

In a case filed in state court last week, the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, representing Cook Inlet fishermen, said the state is mismanaging the east-side set-net fishery to the benefit of other user groups. It’s asking the state to immediately reopen the fishery this season to its 440 or so permit-holders, to pay fishermen back for what they lost and to revise the plan that closed it in the first place.

Due to restrictions linked to the sport fishery, the east-side set-net fishery in Cook Inlet closes when king salmon abundance on the Kenai River is low. The set-netters were shut down early this year for the fourth year in a row.

In their complaint, the fishermen said those closures are part of a larger trend of the state allocating salmon to the other fisheries at their expense. And they said anglers from those sport and personal use fisheries are guiding the Dunleavy administration’s fishery policy for their own interests.

The injunction demands the Alaska Board of Fisheries get rid of the paired restrictions that close their fishery when king counts are low and that it adjust the goalposts that determine when the run shuts down.

Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund has been a plaintiff in a variety of fishing lawsuits over the years, including an ongoing suit filed on behalf of set-netters in 2019. The group was also a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit over the closure of a large swath of Cook Inlet to the drift fleet last year.

Fishermen won that case this June, and the fishery was reopened for the 2022 season.

Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said his department is disappointed in the filing but is confident they will prevail in court.

He said the department is following Board of Fisheries-approved plans and guidance.

“The most appropriate venue for this is with the Board of Fisheries, not the courts,” he wrote in an email Thursday.

The lawyer for Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, Carl Bauman, deferred questions about the case to the group, but a representative could not be reached before deadline.

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