AD Main Menu

Opinion: Possible commercial salmon opener panics Kenai dipnetters, but is it really such a bad thing?

Craig Medred
Dipnetters at the mouth of the Kenai River on Thursday. Bill Roth

Kenai River dipnetters appeared to be on the verge of going apoplectic Friday at the news the Alaska Department of Fish and Game might allow an emergency opening of the commercial setnet salmon fishery off the mouth of that river.

"After this year's Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fishery meeting and all the discussion by the Board of Fish on how this fishery will be managed you are actually considering turning your back on the public and calling for an EO (emergency order) to setnet fish the first weekend of personal use fishing?'' Bruce Morgan of the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee emailed state commercial fisheries' Pat Shields and a lot of others.

Others were responding quickly with the word "bullshit" and accusing the state agency of turning its back on the public.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. This is not a simple situation.

First off, the setnet fishery can choke off the run of sockeye salmon into the Kenai River and render the dipnetting pretty futile but there's no given that it will do that. What happens depends on the number of fish moving toward the beaches.

When they show there by the hundreds of thousands, or millions, the setnets can't stop the flow to the river. They only slow it down. The dipnetting can still range from good to excellent.

That's point one to be considered.

Point two is this:

Dipnet, sport and commercial fishermen all agreed at the Fish Board meeting this winter that commercial setnetters are entitled to some sockeye. And everyone agreed the Kenai River chinook salmon run is in trouble.

Fish and Game biologists are thus in the difficult position of trying to allow for commercial fishing while still protecting those big kings. As a simple biological matter, the river is now in the lull between the end of the early Kenai king run, which just made the minimum spawning goal, and the start of the late Kenai king run, about which there are worries of meeting the goal.

If there is going to be a sockeye setnet fishery with a minimum king take, this is arguably the best time to conduct that fishery. And until someone comes up with a cleaner way to fish the beaches than exists today, there is going to be some bycatch of kings in any setnet fishery.

Last, the reality of the dipnet fishery is this: The 12th of July is not when it is expected to get hot in the Kenai. No experienced or serious Kenai dipnetter plans around this weekend as the time to be at the river.

That's another argument in favor of setnet fishing now instead of later, when a lot of dipnetters are flocking to the mouth of the river expecting to catch enough salmon to fill their freezer for the winter.

Yes, the odds are that a weekend opening of the setnet fishery will slow the dipnetting on the Kenai. But it could still be good, and at this point in the season no one really has any reasonable reason to expect it to be great.

But in America's Great Entitlement State, it seems, everyone has come to expect they're owed things. In that regard at least, the dipnetters aren't that much different from the setnetters who have for years believed they are entitled to catch Kenai sockeye.

They're not. But neither are dipnetters.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.