Residents of Ninilchik, Hope and Cooper Landing will be able to take chinook, sockeye, coho and pink salmon in the Kenai River through use of a dipnet and rod-and-reel fishery this summer.
The Federal Subsistence Board decided to approve these and other proposed changes to the Kenai Peninsula Subsistence Fishing Regulations after a week of meetings in Anchorage that wrapped up March 11.
The new regulations, many of which largely mirror those made at the Southcentral Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council meeting held in March, take effect June 11 and apply to federally qualified subsistence users.
“We were very pleased with much of the outcome from the meetings. I think the decisions reflect positively on our customary and traditional use,” said Greg Encelewski, president of the Ninilchik Tribal Council and a proponent of the subsistence fishery.
Not all user groups found the board’s decision to their liking, though. Some, like the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, were hoping the subsistence fishery would be nixed before it could begin.
“We’re disappointed with the board’s decision to deny our proposal which asked to rescind the customary and traditional use determinations,” said Ricky Gease, executive director for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and an outspoken opponent of the subsistence fishery.
With existing sport, commercial, personal-use and education fisheries already in place, a new subsistence fishery seemed superfluous, Gease said.
“There’s not a need for another one,” he said.
The board disagreed.
In the dipnet fishery, residents of Ninilchik, Cooper Landing and Hope can take a combined yearly total harvest of 4,000 sockeye from three areas: a 0.5-mile area starting above the Russian River Falls and running to 600 yards below the falls; an area roughly 0.5 miles long about 2.5 miles below the outlet of Skilak Lake; and in a boat-only fishery in the Moose Range Meadows from River Miles 25-29.
Many of these areas are unproven as far as fishermen being able to catch salmon in a dipnet.
“We’re just going to have to try it and see if it’s meaningful, or even doable,” Encelewski said.
Gease said he believed some of the dipnet fishery locations seemed odd.
“The Russian River is an interesting place to pick for a dipnet fishery,” he said.
Annual household limits will be 25 sockeye for the permit holder, plus five fish for each additional household member. For the two Kenai River locations below Skilak Lake, the yearly total harvest limits are: 1,000 late-run chinook salmon with household limits of 10 fish for each permit holder and two additional fish for each extra household member; 3,000 silver salmon (20 for the permit holder and five for each additional household member); and 2,000 pinks (15 for the permit holder and five for each additional household member).
For the rod-and-reel fishery, the board will allow federally qualified subsistence fishermen to use up to two baited hooks below Skilak Lake from June 15 through Aug. 31. In contrast to sportfishing regulations, this will provide for the use of bait and an additional hook during late June for early-run chinook and just an additional hook during July for late-run chinook.
The board also allowed residents of Hope and Cooper Landing to take lake trout, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout in the Kenai River through a rod-and-reel fishery, with yearly daily bag and possession limits for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden being the same as sportfishing limits, and double sportfishing limits for lake trout.
The board did not approve new regulations for rod-and-reel fishing for resident species of fish for Ninilchik fishermen.
“That was the only decision we were a little perplexed about,” Encelewski said. “They didn’t want us fishing for any trout, but traditional and customary use was clearly for all species.”
The board did allow residents of Ninilchik to take chinook, sockeye, coho and pink salmon through a dipnet/rod-and-reel fishery in the Kasilof River. The adopted proposals allow for a dipnet fishery for salmon on the upper seven miles of river immediately below Tustumena Lake.
For sockeye, the yearly total harvest limit is 4,000 sockeyes with a household limit of 25 for the permit holder and five for each additional household member; and 500 each of kings, silvers and pinks, each with a household limit of 10 for the permit holder and two for each additional household member.
Other species caught incidentally in the dipnets may be retained for substance uses with the exception of rainbow/steelhead trout taken after Aug. 15 or after 200 rainbow/steelhead have been taken incidentally in the salmon dipnet fishery.
On the Kasilof River, the rod-and-reel fishery for salmon will occur in Tustumena Lake and its tributaries, with coho and pink salmon being the target species. For each species, the yearly, daily bag and possession limits will be double those of sportfishing limits. Up to two baited hooks are allowed, which provides for the use of bait during Sept. 1 through Dec. 31.
A rod-and-reel fishery is allowed for resident species. For Dolly Varden and lake trout, daily bag and possession limits are double those of sportfishing limits. For rainbows, daily bag and possession limits are the same as sportfishing limits.
The board also approved a winter gillnet and jig fishery for resident species on the Kasilof River.
Encelewski said he believed the new subsistence fisheries would have a low impact on the Kenai Peninsula fisheries overall.
“I just hope people take the time to understand it and give it a chance,” he said.
Gease was not as optimistic about the future of the fishery.
“It’s all new now, but there will be a lot of pressure points that may build up as these 1,800 eligible residents begin to understand and use this fishery over the next few years,” he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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