The Ninilchik Traditional Council has submitted operational plans for both the Kasilof and Kenai rivers subsistence gillnets approved by the Federal Subsistence Board in a hotly contested January decision.
The Federal Register has already published the regulation. Approval of the operational plan is the final requirement; after approval, the gillnets can go into the water.
Nets will be allowed within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Subsistence fishing areas in the Kenai River drainage include the Russian River Falls, Kenai River Mile 48 — just south of Skilak Lake — and Moose Range Meadows.
The Kasilof River subsistence area runs from a federal regulatory marker on the river below the outlet of Tustumena Lake downstream to the Tustumena Lake boat launch.
The federal board’s decision allows a single sockeye subsistence gillnet to be used in portions of the Kasilof and Kenai rivers.
For the Kasilof gillnet, there is a sunset clause written into the proposal; after five years of “experimental” status, the gillnet will be reevaluated. For the Kenai gillnet, no such expiration is included in the regulation language.
Both are contingent on an operational plan to be submitted to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in-season manager, Jeff Anderson, specifying how fishing time and fish will be distributed among the residents of Ninilchik.
Anderson said he would not discuss the contents of either operational plan, as they are currently in draft form.
He is working through the Kasilof plan first before moving onto the Kenai plan.
Anderson did say that the potential impacts to other fisheries are high on his priority list; the Fish and Wildlife representative on the Federal Subsistence Board voted against the proposal in January.
King salmon fishing on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers will be restricted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game when the season begins out of conservation concerns.
“We are certainly taking the effects seriously,” Anderson said. “The impacts to other fisheries are important.”
The Ninilchik Traditional Council did not respond to several requests for an interview by the Journal.
The dates specified in each gillnet’s proposal mean the nets could be in the water as soon as Anderson approves the operational plan. The specified dates for the Kasilof gillnet are from July 1-31. For the Kenai gillnet, the opening runs from June 15-Aug. 15.
Anderson said he is unfamiliar with the operational plan process, as this is the first experimental community gillnet fishery the refuge has ever worked with. As such, he is unsure when the final operational plan will be approved and the nets can officially be lowered into water.
“So far we’ve had an in-person meeting and some follow-up by back and forth communication since then,” said Anderson.
According to the regulation, the gillnets already have certain restrictions. On both the Kenai and Kasilof, the Ninilchik Traditional Council is allowed to retain all salmon that are caught, including kings.
Currently, up to 4,000 sockeye salmon and 1,000 late-run chinook salmon are allocated for subsistence users along the Kenai River, but typically they aren’t heavily used, with minimal subsistence holdings in the area.
The harvest rates have been historically low; as of this year, there has been no reported participation or harvest of subsistence chinook on the Kenai River, according to Anderson. On the Kasilof River, only two sockeyes have been caught for subsistence since 2007.
Residents of Ninilchik may retain other species incidentally caught in the Kasilof River. When the retention of rainbow/steelhead trout has been restricted under federal subsistence regulations, the gillnet fishery will be closed.
Residents of Ninilchik may retain other species incidentally caught in the Kenai River except for Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden 18 inches or longer. Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden 18 inches or greater must be released.
Only one community gillnet can be operated on the Kasilof River, and one gillnet on the Kenai River. Each gillnet cannot be over 10 fathoms, or 60 feet, in length, and may not obstruct more than half of the river width with stationary fishing gear.
Subsistence stationary gillnet gear may not be set within 200 feet of other subsistence stationary gear.
Salmon taken in the gillnet fishery will be included as part of the dip net/rod and reel fishery annual total harvest limits for the Kenai River and as part of dip net/rod and reel household annual limits of participating households.
Fishing for each salmon species will end and the fishery will be closed by federal special action prior to regulatory end dates if the annual total harvest limit for that species is reached or superseded by federal special action.
The official comment period for requesting reconsideration from the Federal Subsistence Board ends July 17.
DJ Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.