State will appeal ruling allowing setnet ban initiative
The State of Alaska will appeal a Superior Court decision to allow a ballot initiative that would ban setnets in urban areas of the state.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, or AFCA, filed a ballot initiative petition last November seeking to ask voters whether to ban setnets in urban parts of the state, which would primarily impact Upper Cook Inlet setnetters.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell rejected the initiative in January, based on a state Department of Law opinion asserting that it would be a prohibited resource appropriation not allowed under the Alaska Constitution.
In July, however, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter overturned Treadwell’s decision, and ordered the lieutenant governor to certify the initiative and allow proponents to continue the process of gathering signatures to get the question on the 2016 ballot.
Department of Law Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills wrote in an Aug. 5 email that the state will appeal the decision.
“The State plans on appealing the Alaska Superior Court’s decision in the set-net ban initiative case (Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance v. State) once the final judgment is filed,” Mills wrote in an emailed statement. “Alaska’s Constitution requires sustainable and responsible allocation of our fisheries for the benefit of all Alaskans. The Alaska Constitution also prohibits use of the initiative process for appropriations, including appropriations of our resources. We believe the Superior Court erred in finding that the proposed ban on set-netting does not amount to an appropriation and look forward to presenting our arguments before the Alaska Supreme Court.”
Unless a stay is granted, which requires a separate motion, the initiative process will continue moving forward, Mills wrote in an email.
AFCA President Joe Connors said in a statement that his organization was disappointed that the state was appealing.
“We are disappointed that the State of Alaska has decided to appeal a very clear ruling by the Anchorage Superior Court that would allow a ballot initiative to ban commercial set nets in urban, non-subsistence areas of Alaska,” Connors said in the statement. “We look forward to making our case to the Alaska Supreme Court because this is an important issue and voters have a right to participate in the conservation of fish and wildlife.”
Connors said the group will begin gathering signatures as soon as the Alaska Division of Elections provides the signature booklets and gives the go-ahead.
AFCA has said it is targeting the 2016 ballot. The organization must collect about 30,000 signatures before the question can appear on the ballot.
Once the signature booklets are ready, the organization will have one year to collect the signatures. In the meantime, the issue will go to the state Supreme Court, where the record must first be established before briefs are filed or any activity occurs in the case.
AFCA’s attorney Matt Singer said he expected the state Supreme Court to affirm Easter’s decision.
Singer has argued that the public’s right to weigh in on fish and wildlife management using the ballot initiative process should be interpreted broadly, with the appropriations limitation interpreted narrowly.
“We look forward to making our case to the Alaska Supreme Court,” Singer said Aug. 5.
The state’s decision was welcome news, however, for the groups who opposed the initiative. Cook Inlet East Side setnetter Andy Hall said it was good news for him personally, and that he also thought it was the right decision for the state.
“You really don’t want to open the door to ballot box resource allocation,” Hall said Aug. 5.
Hall said the initiative could be a disaster for the state, given its dependence on resource development and extraction.
“We don’t want to compromise that,” he said.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.