- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Alaska Supreme Court justices have begun to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit over the legality of a proposed voter initiative to ban setnets in urban parts of Alaska.

In oral arguments Wednesday, Joanne Grace, the attorney for the state, argued that putting the initiative on the ballot would allow voters to determine how the state appropriates resources, taking that power away from the Board of Fish, KTVA-TV reported (http://bit.ly/1Ektm3o ).

“When the gear ban, in effect, eliminates competing use, then the initiative falls on the appropriation line,” said Grace. “And that’s what the setnet ban does, because it effectively eliminates the fishery.”

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance gathered more than 43,000 signatures in June to put the initiative banning setnetting on next year’s ballot. The initiative includes commercial setnetting in “urban, non-subsistence” regions, such as Juneau and Kenai.

An attorney for the alliance, Matt Singer, argued that voters have had input on resource issues in the past. Singer said ending setnetting isn’t a war on commercial fishing, it’s just removing an outdated tool.

“An individual setnetter, as a result of this initiative, will no longer be able to use his set net,” said Singer. “But he can go and catch fish with a drift net.”

But Jim Bulter, president of Resources for All Alaskans, said the initiative was “anti-Alaskan” and could set a dangerous precedent for other industries.

“The vast majority of people who participate in the setnet in Cook Inlet are Alaskans.” Butler said. “It would be unfortunate if Alaskans decided they could vote away someone else’s business.”

If the Alaska Supreme Court decides not to overturn the initiative, the ban will be on the August 2016 primary ballot.

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Information from: KTVA-TV, http://www.ktva.com

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