Looking for personal space: Personal-use fishery participants represent growing segment of users

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011

Editor's note: This is the final part in a three-part series leading up to the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting on Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues that starts today. The purpose of the series is to examine the three distinct user groups, the people that constitute them, and what issues matter to them the most.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Scott Huff has used a dipnet to help feed his family of five for the past decade.

While Scott Huff enjoys dipnetting on the Kenai River during the personal-use fishery every July, he also realizes the fishery might need some updates.

"It's getting more crowded and I can see more people wasting a lot of the resource," he said. "I think it's a resource for everybody in the state and at the same time I don't think it can support fish for everybody in the whole state."

Originally form Seldovia, the 34-year-old who owns his own surveying business, Integrity Surveys on Kalifornsky Beach Road, grew up commercial fishing on Bristol Bay. He's lived on the central Kenai Peninsula with his wife and three young children for four years now.

"When it's good I'll go check every morning. It's a perk of living in Kenai," he said about the dipnet fishery. "It's in our back yard."

Every summer for about 10 years now, Huff has gone dipnetting to provide food for his family.

When he used to live in Eagle River, he would come to the Peninsula to participate in the personal-use fishery.

"I was one of the people driving down from Anchorage every weekend," Huff said. "I can't fault them."

Huff said he does not have plans to attend the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting on Upper Cook Inlet issues to testify on the dipnetting but he still cares about the fishery.

"I hope it continues," he said. "I'd hate to see it shut down."

Rik Bucy, who represents personal-use fishermen on the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said he does not think a lot of the personal-use fishery proposals will have a chance at the Board of Fisheries meeting that starts today.

"Quite honestly I don't think any will be adopted," Bucy said.

He said a lot of the proposals submitted by those with commercial fishing interests are contradictory.

"There are a lot of proposals from commercial fishermen to limit the personal-use fishery," he said.

Some of those proposals include opening up the resident-only personal-use fishery to non-residents and prohibiting dipnetting from boats, both of which Bucy says come from the commercial fishers who complain the dipnet fishery is abused, but those proposals would put more pressure on the fishery.

One proposal that he particularly opposes prohibits the retention of king salmon in the fishery. Currently, dipnetters are allowed to retain one king.

"If you go out with a rod and reel and harvest a king and take it home and eat it why can't you harvest one with a dipnet and take it home and eat it?" he asked. "Both have to be recorded on a license."

Another proposal Bucy is against would lower the limit of fish dipnetters can catch, a measure he said is unnecessary.

"There is no cap on commercial fishing," he said. "They say the cap is escapement but without escapement sport and personal-use don't fish either."

Bucy said he does recognize that there are some users of the fishery that can give it a bad name.

As with everything else, there are some people that tear up and down the beach on ATVs and leave trash everywhere, he said "but the vast majority of people are civilized and well-behaved."

He said the City of Kenai is doing a great job with providing services and staff during the dipnet fishery. On the Kasilof River, he thinks the designation of a special use are will help take care a lot of the regulatory concerns with the fishery there.

He said he knows some residents with low-income licenses who take advantage of the fishery out of necessity.

"If it wasn't for that they wouldn't be eating very well throughout the year," he said.

To Bucy, dipnetting is an enjoyable way to harvest a lot of fish and fill up his freezer.

"The fish are there, they belong to all of us and we should eat them," he said.

Jason Pawluk, assistant area manage of sport fish at the Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, said the committee for personal-use fisheries that is scheduled for Wednesday should be "pretty lively."

He's anticipating the personal-use fishery issues will be a hot topic at this year's meeting.

And that's why Ken Federico of the South Central Alaska Dipnetters Association is going to be there to testify.

"They are gunning for us," he said. "It's always pretty contentious between commercial fishermen and dipnetters."

Some local residents complain about the access to the Board of Fisheries because the meeting on Cook Inlet issues takes place in Anchorage, and Federico said he feels for the working man.

"How many people are going to take off of work Monday and Tuesday to go and testify?" said the Wasilla resident. "I represent the little guy. I don't want them taking fish out of my freezer and I'll be damned if they're going to take it out of yours."

According to Federico, dipnetters usually harvest some 280,000 fish a year while commercial fishermen usually catch 2.5 million.

And over the last couple years personal-use permits increased by 5,000 bringing the total to 30,000 residents with permits, he said, which could potentially mean 80,000 Alaskans benefit from the fishery if you factor in the average number of people per household.

He opposes the proposal prohibiting the retention of kings caught with dipnets because it's strictly allocative and not biological. The fishery only takes around 800 kings, Federico said.

With the economy the way it's been people do not have the money or time to sport fish, Federico said.

Like Bucy, Federico feels that the majority of personal-use proposals will not pass.

"The Board of Fish members know a lot of it is rhetoric," he said.

And perhaps none of the proposals submitted this year offer better solutions to managing the fishery.

Huff said the beaches get trashed because of the crowds and at its current rate of growth something might need to be done, such as a lottery system for Alaska residents to use the fishery, he said.

"I don't know what the answer is, it's a hard question for sure," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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