Alaska Board of Fish creates new dipnet fishery on the Susitna River

Alaska’s dipnetters will have a new option this summer thanks to a regulation change by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

On Thursday the board voted to create a personal use salmon dipnet fishery on a portion of the Susitna River from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays from July 10-31.

The new fishery will take place between a marker 1 mile downstream from Susitna Station downstream to the Alexander Creek/Bell Island cutoff. Dipnetters will be able to harvest up to 25 salmon in the new fishery, though chinook salmon (kings) are off limits.

Several groups backed the new fishery, including the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee and the South Central Alaska Dipnetters Association, which both submitted proposals to the board. The Board of Fisheries is meeting to discuss Upper Cook Inlet fishing regulations through Feb. 19 at the Egan Center in Anchorage.

Personal-use salmon fisheries currently exist in Cook Inlet on the Kenai River, Kasilof River on the Kenai Peninsula and Fish Creek. There is also a popular personal use fishery at the Copper River, which empties into Prince William Sound.

Open to Alaska residents only, personal use fisheries allow permit holders to harvest up to 25 salmon per head of household each year, with an additional 10 salmon for each additional family member.

In its proposal, the Mat Valley committee said the new fishery would give area residents an opportunity to harvest salmon closer to home.

“Residents of the Mat-Su Valley would like the option of a (personal use) fishery on the Susitna River and not having to travel hundreds of miles away to the Kenai or Copper Rivers,” the committee wrote.

The sprawling, braided Susitna system empties into Cook Inlet about 20 miles west of Point Mackenzie and is home to all five species of Pacific salmon. The creation of the fishery comes on the heels of a board decision to delist Susitna River sockeye salmon as a “stock of concern,” though Department of Fish and Game biologists were neutral about the proposal.

The Susitna River drainage is managed for an escapement of 10,200 to 24,100 coho salmon, while the combined goal for Chelanta, Judd and Larson Lake -- the three main sockeye-producing lakes in the drainage -- is about 50,000 to 120,000 sockeye. The system also supports large numbers of pink and chum salmon.

The Kenai and Kasilof fisheries draw the most interest, with thousands of people utilizing the road-accessible rivers about three hours south of Anchorage. Harvests on the Kenai River fishery have ranged from as few as 165,000 to more than a half-million, while the Kasilof River typically sees a harvest of between 50,000 and 100,000. The vast majority of the fish harvested are sockeye salmon.

It’s unlikely the new fishery will rival others in Southcentral for popularity. In contrast to the Kenai and Kasilof fisheries — where dipnetters from Anchorage and the Mat-Su are lured en masse by easy access to the beach — a trip to the new Susitna fishery will require an 18-mile boat ride from Deshka Landing, according to Mat-Su Borough Public Affairs Director Stefan Hinman.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the new dipnet area is located east of Point Mackenzie; it is to the west.