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Bristol Bay setnetters to vote on whether to join BBRSDA

Setnetters in Ekuk in 2021
Courtesy of Brian Venua
Setnetters in Ekuk in 2021

Bristol Bay setnetters will soon decide whether or not they want to join the region’s seafood development association.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association is holding a vote for setnetters in September.

Currently, only drift permit holders make up the member-funded association. Drifters pay 1% of their harvest earnings to support its programs - which include marketing Bristol Bay sockeye and working to improve the quality, sustainability and value of the fishery. Those initiatives benefit both fleets, but there are no programs or board seats specifically for setnetters.

The upcoming vote could change that. If passed, all setnetters would be included as association members. That means they’d pay one percent of their harvest as well - that’s one percent of ex vessel harvest from the processors paid to the state, one percent would be taken out just like taxes. Two board seats for setnetters would be added to the seven-member board, and the association would create programs to directly benefit setnetters.

Frances Bursch is a program manager with BBRSDA and setnets with her family at Pilot Point, in the Ugashik District.

She says the vote is part of a larger organizational shift to formally include setnetters in BBRSDA membership and strengthen the organization. She says that shift was spurred by the pandemic.

“COVID kind of forced people that come together and work together and realize that it's kind of a missed opportunity by not having the setnet involvement,” she said. “There's a lot of folks who bring a lot of knowledge to the fishery, who are not included in the organization right now.”

For the setnetters to join, at least 30% of all setnet permit holders must vote, and the majority of those votes must be in favor of joining.

If setnetters vote no, then there would be no change, and BBRSDA would continue to be funded solely by drift permit holders.

This isn’t the first time setnetters have voted on whether or not to join the association. When the organization was formed in 2006, Bursch says, setnetters opted out.

“At that time, the drift fleet voted in and opted to start the organization,” she said. “And at that time, in the setnet fleet voted not to and that's why now and since 2006, just the drift fleet has been members.”

In addition to two board seats, a setnet committee would be created with five seats, one for each district. Bursch says the board has worked to create a fair foundation for setnetters to join, including bylaws changes to earmark 25% of the additional revenue from setnetter earnings for setnetter programs. That could include welding and mechanical support, ice infrastructure, and quality studies.

“Something that's come up in our quality committee is different questions, for setnetters, is it more beneficial to the fish to get ice and start chilling right away? Or is it more beneficial just to deliver to the tender all the time and get it on the bigger boats faster. So that's, you know, these are really just examples, but those are kind of some of the things that have, you know, would be appropriately BBRSDA projects, but without a membership, the funds don't be directed towards it,” Bursch said.

Setnetter revenue is estimated to be between 12 and 20% of Bristol Bay’s harvest. If they joined, Bursch says BBRSDA’s budget would see a significant bump.

“With the setnet membership, it would increase the budget by about 20%. Going back, it varies year to year, of course, But in 2021, the settlement harvest value altogether was $6.1 million. So 1% of that would be about $600,000,” she said.

As a regional development association, the BBRSDA election process is run by the state of Alaska, based on setnet permit holders information submitted to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. BBRSDA management urges setnetters to make sure their information is up to date by July, ahead of the September vote.

For more information about the setnet election visit

Disclaimer: BBRSDA is an underwriter of KDLG and funds the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report but has no involvement in editorial coverage or newsroom operations.

Corinne Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer who grew up in Oakland, California. She's reported for KFSK in Petersburg, KHNS in Haines, and most recently KBBI in Homer. This is her second season as a fisheries reporter, and now returns as director of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report.