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Set-net fishery to close weekends during dipnet season

The next Board of Fisheries meeting on Upper Cook Inlet is 2024.
Redoubt Reporter
The dipnet fishery on the Kenai opens July 10.

East side set-netters will be unable to fish weekends during dip-net season this year. That’s according to the Upper Cook Inlet commercial forecast from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The department said that policy will give the set-netters the 24 hours they’re allowed to fish during the week while also moving fish into the rivers for dip-netting on the weekends.

Some fishermen, including third-generation set-netter Travis Every, say that could limit how many sockeye the set-netters can harvest. And he said that could be a problem, since the Kenai River was overescaped by one million fish last season.

“Say fish show up on Sunday and there’s fish showing up Saturday night and Sunday morning," Every said. "With this here, we can’t go Sunday morning and have an opener.”

Set-netters are restricted under their management plan to a given number of fishing hours when king salmon counts are low — part of a plan meant to keep the king salmon caught by set-netters to a minimum.

Since the late king run is expected to be poor, set-netters will likely be limited to 24 hours of fishing each week. It’s up to Fish and Game to decide which days those openers will take place based on the abundance of the sockeye run.

Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said in an emailed statement the department notified the set-net fishery its 24 hours would be used during the week after July 8. He said that will help the department move more fish into the rivers for the dipnet fishery, which opens in Kenai on July 10.

“This will allow their hours to get fished while allowing for movement of fish into the rivers. If projections change we will reconsider our strategy,” he said. “This is simply a preseason outlook."

Ken Coleman is a set-netter and vice president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. He said openers have taken place during the week the last several seasons starting in July. But this is the first time he’s seen it in writing.

Salamatof set-netter Eric Nyce said, by and large, he’s not satisfied with the management decisions the department makes for the fishery.

But he said he’s OK with having set fishing periods.

“Just having set openers, that takes any allocation away from the department and turns it into more of just a chance," Nyce said. "And eventually it'll rotate around that everybody will have fish at their beach on a given opener.”

He said when the department sets openers based on fish abundance, those decisions are sometimes good for one beach and bad for another. Just because the fish are running in Ninilchik, for example, doesn’t mean they’re also running at Salamatof.

“I’d much rather see set Monday-Thursday openers, stick to those days, and if that’s how it works out when fish are on the beach, then great," Nyce said. "I just haven’t seen much success when they’ve been trying to pick and choose between the beaches."

And he said knowing when they can fish in advance is helpful for planning.

Every said he worries that the fish aren’t going to follow Fish and Game’s plan. He said it’s part of a larger trend of set-netters getting allocated out of existence in favor of sport- and personal-use fisheries.

“The fish don’t follow a calendar," he said.

Management is subject to change once the fish start running. If king abundance is better than expected, the department could adjust its approach.

But set-netters are also bracing for an early closure of the fishery. Paired restrictions with the sportfishery mean that when king counts are low in the late run — under 15,000 large kings through the sonar — and the king sportfishery is closed, set-netters aren’t allowed to fish, either. Last year, the fishery closed in July.

The Board of Fisheries rejected a proposal to loosen that restriction at a meeting earlier this month.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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