Over opposition from commercial fisherman, state passes limits to Cook Inlet fisheries

A sunrise over the water
Cook Inlet by Paxson Woelber, Wikimedia creative commons license

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska state proposal to limit commercial salmon fishing in Alaska’s Cook Inlet has been approved despite opposition by many anglers.

The proposal was approved Monday by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees fishing in most federal waters off Alaska, The Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

Opposition came from commercial fishermen and community and state leaders who said the move threatens seafood processors on the Kenai Peninsula and hundreds of fishing operations.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration in October presented the proposal to close federal waters starting 3 miles offshore to the council in October.

Numerous people commenting about the options opposed the state’s proposal, which would close an area where the Cook Inlet driftnet fleet typically lands about half its salmon catch.

Many opponents said the proposal could have devastating consequences — forcing seafood processors and possibly hundreds of commercial fishing operations out of business, with the economic fallout spreading to other industries.

The state has managed salmon fishing in the waters west of Homer and Ninilchik off the southern Kenai Peninsula for decades.

Two Cook Inlet groups representing commercial fishing operations filed a lawsuit in 2013 challenging the state’s management.

A federal appeals court sided with the groups in 2016 and ordered the council to include the inlet’s federal waters in its fishery management plan.

The fishery management council previously received 225 comments, most favoring an option to allow state management with federal oversight and review. There did not appear to be support for the alternative of complete federal management.

“It is pretty sad when the state is pushing something that would be the last nail in the coffin for commercial fishing in Cook Inlet,” said David Martin, president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, which filed the 2013 lawsuit with the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund.

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association provided the lone vote of support for the state’s proposal to close the federal waters.

Closing commercial fishing in federal waters could allow more fish to return to Cook Inlet rivers, which support sport fishing.

The association was founded by Bob Penney, a sport fishing advocate and real estate developer who contributed more than $350,000 to support the 2018 election of Dunleavy, a Republican.

Executive Director Ben Mohr said the association had nothing to do with the state’s proposal and Penney likely did not, either.

Penney did not return several requests for comment, and Mohr said Penney is no longer on the group’s board after the recent end of his term.

Dunleavy’s office did not respond when asked whether Penney factored in the state proposal.