Sockeye salmon are gathered together at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sockeye salmon are gathered together at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Commercial fishing with dipnets to see 1st opening Thursday

Commercial fishing with dipnets will be allowed for their first opening on Thursday in the North Kalifornsky Beach and Kasilof Sections, according to an emergency order by the State Department of Fish and Game on Wednesday.

Fishing will be allowed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 20.

Sockeye salmon passage on the Kasilof River has exceeded 30,000 fish as of Tuesday, the announcement says, and the fishing period is described in the Kenai River Late-run King Salmon Stock of Concern Management Plan.

The use of dipnets in commercial fisheries was approved by the State Board of Fisheries in March, said to be a more selective gear for harvest of sockeye salmon without killing king salmon.

Before they could be used, dipnets also needed to be approved by the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, who granted emergency approval for this year’s season in May ahead of a meeting to grant full approval scheduled for June 25.

Up to three 12-hour periods of commercial dipnetting “may” be allowed each week from June 20 to July 31.

Retention of king and coho salmon is prohibited and they must be immediately released “unless the fish is mortally wounded or dead.” Those fish must be brought onboard and reported under new regulations also implemented by the board in March within the Kenai River Late-run King Salmon Stock of Concern Action Plan.

Each permit holder may operate up to four dipnets at a time, with each being operated either by the permit holder or licensed crew. Dipnets may not be more than 5 feet in diameter, the depth of the bag must be at least one-half of the diameter, and no portion of the bag may be constructed of webbing that exceeds a stretched measurement of 4 and a half inches. Each net must be attached to a single, rigid handle and be operated by hand.

Before fishing, Wednesday’s announcement says that permit holders will need to register their permits to fish in the Upper Subdistrict at the local department office.

The east side setnet fishery, which includes the sections set to be opened Thursday, has faced significant restrictions in recent years, which culminated in a complete season closure announced months before their scheduled start in 2023. This year, the fishery is again entirely closed to the use of their traditional setnet gear, with the use of dipnets representing their only opportunity. Fishers said in March that the dipnets aren’t comparable to set gillnets in regard to rate and quantity of success, but some indicated they would be taking advantage of the limited opportunity.

Last week, a disaster determination was received from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce for the 2023 Upper Cook Inlet east side setnet salmon fishery, joining other disasters recognized in the fishery for 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

For more information about fishing regulations and opportunity, visit adfg.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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