Kenai borough Assembly asks governor to declare east side set-net economic disaster

Set-netters pick a sockeye out of the net in June, 2022. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last week passed a resolution asking Gov. Mike Dunleavy to declare an economic disaster for set-netters who fish the east side of Cook Inlet.

That declaration would open up the fishery to grants from the state Legislature and accelerated capital projects. The east side set-net fishery was closed this year before the season even began, in early March. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game closed that fishery, as well as early and late king salmon sport fishing, because of low projections for king salmon returns.

Assembly President Brent Johnson, an east side set-netter himself, sponsored the resolution along with Borough Mayor Peter Micciche and Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox.

“For the first time since the first Cook Inlet cannery was built on the banks of the Kasilof River in 1882, setnetting on the east side of Cook Inlet was closed for an entire season,” Johnson wrote in a memo about the resolution. “The cultural and social loss is both emotional and painful. The economic loss is great and it is to this loss that the east side setnet fishery seeks government help.”

In the resolution, the borough estimates set-netters lost out on more than $7 million in potential revenue because of the closure, about $17 thousand per permit-holder.

Ken Coleman, a set-netter and president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, thanked the assembly for throwing support behind the east side set-netters through resolutions.

“They’re meaningful, and I can tell you from our community, our set-netters are very appreciative of your time and efforts,” he said.

Coleman said this is the fifth time in six years that he’s asked for a similar declaration. He said once it gets through the governor’s office, it goes to the federal level, and opens even more opportunities.

The resolution passed unanimously, with Johnson abstaining because of a conflict of interest. A copy of the letter will be shared with the commissioner of the state’s Department of Commerce, and with all of the Kenai Peninsula’s state legislators.

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