The Federal Subsistence Board already has created one subsistence fishery open to all Kenai Peninsula residents.
After assuming jurisdiction last fall over subsistence fisheries in Alaska waters bordering federally managed lands, the board adopted state subsistence fishery regulations.
Peggy Fox, assistant regional director for subsistence with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said the new federal rules make rural residents of the greater Cook Inlet area eligible for year-round subsistence harvest of fish other than salmon, trout, char, Dolly Varden, grayling and burbot.
What does that leave for subsistence? On the Kenai Peninsula, the answer is whitefish, a distant cousin to salmon and trout. Whitefish have been commercially harvested in other parts of North America.
For federal subsistence purposes, the Cook Inlet area reaches north to parts of Denali National Park and south to a line through Cape Douglas near the inlet's mouth, she said. It reaches west to Lake Clark and east to a line running through Cape Fairfield east of Resurrection Bay.
Within that area, federal subsistence fishing is allowed only on inland waters that adjoin federal lands. On the Kenai Peninsula, that means waters bordering the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest. Kenai Fjords National Park is closed to subsistence users.
Kenai, Skilak and Tustumena lakes and parts of the upper Kenai River border federal subsistence lands.
There are whitefish in Kenai, Skilak and other Kenai Peninsula lakes, said Larry Marsh, assistant area biologist for the Alaska Sport Fish Division in Soldotna. There are whitefish in the Kenai River. The majority are 4 to 6 inches long, he said, but a few grow as long as 16 inches.
Since there are whitefish in the Kasilof River (which is closed to federal subsistence fishing), there are probably whitefish in Tustumena Lake, he said.
Steve Zemke, subsistence coordinator for Chugach National Forest, said subsistence fishers can take whitefish using fishing poles or nets. There is a worrisome loophole: Subsistence fishers may keep rainbow trout caught incidental to net or through-the-ice fisheries for other species.
"We haven't really tested any of these regulations," Zemke said. "Under current regulations, that's probably what you can do. Whether you're targeting rainbows vs. whitefish, you'd probably have to determine that yourself.
"If we find people are setting nets for whitefish and catching large numbers of rainbow trout, we'd probably have to have emergency regulations to protect rainbows."
Federal officials also would enact emergency regulations if subsistence fishing threatened the health of the whitefish population, he said.
Zemke said the federal rules also allow subsistence fishing for smelt with dipnets or gillnets from April 1 through June 15. However, there is no federal subsistence fishing allowed in the lower Kenai River, which lies outside Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.