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On July

An Outdoor View

Posted: July 20, 2012 - 9:22am

A man in a hurry stepped right in front of my moving car in the Fred Meyer parking lot the other day. He didn't even know I was there. Either that, or he figured the risk of being killed was worth the four seconds he saved by darting in front of me.

That guy was on a mission, and he wasn't alone. It happens every year about this time on the central Kenai Peninsula. The sockeye salmon are running.

An almost palpable tension is in the air. You can see it on the frantic faces of people waiting in line at stores, gas stations and boat launches. You can smell it in the acrid exhaust fumes coming from the lines of hell-bent vehicles on the roads. You can hear it in the buzz and whine of outboards, and in the clamor of excited anglers and dip-netters.

Like an Alaskan summer, a sockeye run is a fleeting thing. The fish are here one day, gone the next. Sometimes you get only one shot at them, and it's never a sure thing.  Sometimes the'll be out in Cook Inlet, a herd of 100,000 or more, just swimming around. Then, as if of a single mind, they'll all enter the river. Tens of thousands will swim upstream past Kenai in one day. If you're on the river when it happens, life is good. If you happen to be otherwise occupied, you can miss the best part of a run.

Nothing is certain about catching these salmon. If you prefer catching them on rod and reel, filling your freezer can be iffy, indeed. Not only do you have to be in the right spot at the right time, but you have to be both lucky and skillful. To be legally caught, fish have to be hooked in the mouth. Sockeyes rarely bite, so catching a "legal" one is difficult. Furthermore, hooking one and landing it are two different things. Sockeyes are at least as motivated to avoid being caught as you are to catch them. Finally, unless you own property along the Kenai River, you have to compete with thousands of other anglers for a small space where you can stand and fish.

Considered altogether -- the moiling crowds, the frustrating unpredictability, the extreme reluctance of the fish to be caught -- it's no wonder people become frazzled during the sockeye run.

People are less polite than usual. Their smiles, if they smile at all, are more often the on-and-off kind. Some buckle under the strain and become verbally offensive. Social graces are on "hold" until after salmon season.

As if the peak season for king and sockeye salmon weren't enough pressure, July is also prime time for visitors. Aunt Doris and Uncle Herman are here from Ohio, and they want to go halibut fishing. If we do that, we'll miss a day of dipnetting. They can't dipnet, or even help dipnet, because they're not Alaska residents. And we wanted to get them out on Prince William Sound and up to Mount McKinley. Whose idea was it to tell them where we live?

In July, fishing prevails above all else. It's all-consuming. When we're not fishing, we're either getting our stuff ready to go fishing, or we're recovering from fishing. The tempo increases from adagio to allegro agitato. The difference between June and July is like the difference between Kenny G and John Coltrane.

Viva la difference.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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kenai123 07/30/12 - 09:01 am
Buzz and whine of outboards and sockeye's? What about the kings?

It may be fun to talk about all the sockeyes but they are not the true reason for all the local economic hub-bub. Most of those frantic anglers are really here to fish for king salmon but have been shocked by the first time closure of our July king salmon fisheries. That frantic glare you see on those faces is actually shock and the knowledge that those people have spent thousands of dollars planning to fish king salmon on either the Kenai or Kasilof Rivers and have just been told that they cannot even fish for them! This would be like you paying cash for car and then having it stolen the next day without any insurance. You might just become a little frantic or shocked also. The real story is not about sockeye salmon, it is about what happened to our king salmon. Never before in the last thirty years of angling here on the Kenai or Kasilof Rivers, have we see so few kings returning to our rivers and steams; and your story is about sockeye's? This is like writing about the price of tea in China the day the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor!

Many Alaskan's are wondering what can or should be done to resolve the decline in king salmon within the Cook Inlet area. If you ask the Alaska Department of Fish & Game they will point to a snowstorm of data and grafts, which in the end leaves the viewer even more confused about our commercial by-catch problems. I have been reviewing our king loss data since 2002 and have come to a single conclusion. That conclusion is that many things may need to change within our commercial fisheries but key within those changes is that statewide we must stop all commercial fisheries from profiting "in any way" when they kill non-targeted specie as by-catch. This means that commercial fisheries should be legally required to retain and process ALL BY-CATCH and then DONATE it to a charity. That means that if you "by-catch kill" a beluga whale calf; you are forced to retain, process and donate it. If you by-catch kill a king salmon: you must retain, process and donate it. By charity I mean some kind of Food Bank. This would prevent commercial fisheries from donating by-catch to their favorite "commercial fisheries non-profit".
This change alone, over time would eventually resolve most of Alaska's current by-catch problems. With this change commercial fisheries would eventually be forced to at least begin thinking about avoiding non-targeted by-catch. The king salmon by-catch issue is 100% about money; if you can make by-catch non-profitable, commercial fisheries will eventually find a way to prevent the financial drain. If we leave things the way they are we will be permanently losing many marine specie and fisheries in the very near future.
As long as commercial fisheries are allowed to profit "in any way" from by-catch, the by-catch issue will never go away and therefore all our Alaskan natural resources and fisheries will go on suffering FOREVER. The Alaskan public must organize on this commercial fisheries by-catch issue and tightly focus on this single goal. That goal must be to " REMOVE ALL THE PROFIT" from all commercial fisheries by-catch. The new reality in our fisheries future must be that commercial by-catch is going to cost you BIG. It really does not matter if it is a large fine or the charity donation, the Alaskan [filtered word] needs to organize and do whatever it takes to begin the process of eventually holding commercial fisheries accountable for the marine destruction it is causing within our ocean. The wholesale slaughter of non-targeted species is no longer just acceptable losses. This mean that the Alaskan public must rise up and compel the Alaska Board of Fish and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to take action and make SUBSTANTIAL changes in the way ALL by-catch is processed by ALL of our commercial fisheries. This is a very reasonable goal for the Alaskan public to pursue in resolving this very unreasonable waste of our common Alaskan natural resource heritage.

If you are concerned about the king run, by-catch, closures, the pollock trawlers STILL FISHING and KILLING KINGS & HALIBUT sign & forward this petition to all your friends

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