Proposals to change fishing regulations

Having spent a day this week reading through proposals to change fishing regulations, I can say with some authority that some of them definitely will heat up the proceedings at the upcoming Board of Fisheries meeting.

For example, the South Central Alaska Dipnetters Association has proposed that dipnetting sockeye salmon be allowed not only near the mouth of the Kenai River, but for 50 miles upstream. What’s more, dipnetting would be allowed only on private land from a “previously approved shoreline habitat protective structure.”

My knee-jerk reaction to this proposal was, “Good deal, if you’re a river-front property owner or a friend or relative of one, but what about the other 99 percent of us? It would grant an elite group the exclusive use of a commonly owned resource.”

On second thought, however, this might not be a bad idea. Quoting part of the proposal:

“In that portion of the Kenai River from a regulatory marker located at the outlet of Skilak Lake downstream to the downstream side of the Warren Ames Bridge when the bag and possession limit in the sport fishery for late-run sockeye salmon is increased from 3 to 6 fish, 5 AAC 77.540 (c)(1) would be amended such that, the department may, by emergency order, allow personal use fishing with a dip net as follows:

1. Only on private land from a previously approved shoreline habitat protective structure.

2. A permit must be acquired from the Kenai River Center attesting to the authenticity of the habitat protective structure; and

3. The permit must be displayed at all times that personal use dip net fishing is taking place.”

The popular personal-use dip-net fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River already is crowded, and more so each year. Dipnetting now is allowed only downstream from the Warren Ames Bridge in Kenai. This proposal would relieve some of the pressure during the peak of the sockeye run, and with no impact at all to other areas.

At present, the only time many of the docks, walkways and fishing platforms along the Kenai are used is in July and early August, during the peak of the sockeye run. If dipnetting were to be allowed from these structures, the same people would be fishing, but they’d be fishing for personal use with a dip net, instead fishing with a rod and reel.

Keep in mind that the sport-fishing daily bag limit may be 6 at times, but at least one study found that the average angler was able to catch only two or three. On the other hand, the seasonal limit for personal-use dipnetters is 25 for head of household and 10 for each additional member, all of which can be caught in one day.

Sockeyes bite so rarely that almost all are caught by snagging them in the mouth, “flossing” them. This is one of the reasons that many people prefer the dipnet fishery. Another reason is that fishing spots on the Kenai have become so crowded that people no longer enjoy flipping flies for sockeyes.

This regulation would encourage some anglers to fish from their docks instead of their boats, thereby reducing boat traffic and the wakes of heavy-laden boats coming and going from the river mouth.

Another “plus,” this proposal would vastly reduce the risk of overescapement — what happens when too many fish survive the existing fisheries and spawn. Quoting from proposals by the Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee: “Over escapement is chronic,” and “There are numerous studies that document over escapement as not beneficial to the resource, habitat or users.” The proposed upstream sockeye dipnet fishery would vastly increase the “harvesting power” of the in-river personal-use sockeye fishery. A family of four could easily harvest 55 sockeyes in a day.

I suggest that dipnetting from permitted public structures also should be allowed, as well as fishing from designated shorelines that can be accessed without impacting riparian habitat. The Soldotna city parks come to mind. This would allow the pubic to participate.

Yes, all those dipnetters would impact people who prefer to catch their reds with rod and reel, but only for a short time, and only at a few fishing spots.

This regulation definitely would change the way things are done along the Kenai. It’s worth talking about, and I’m betting the discussions will be spirited.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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