Crowds gear up for setnet fishery

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- For weeks now, people have staked out prime spots in anticipation of the personal-use setnet salmon fishery that opens Saturday around the Kasilof River.

The rules allow the fishery to extend one mile north or south of markers at the river mouth and from the high tide line to one mile offshore.

''It's a popular fishery,'' said Pat Shields, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's assistant area management biologist for commercial fisheries. ''We've received a number of calls at the office about who is entitled to fish.''

People have been busy on the beaches, driving in posts to hold lines, stringing nets, attaching buoys and setting up temporary camps to watch over their sets. At high tide, the sea is filled with rows of pink buoys waiting for the big day.

The hot topic of debate on the beach is whether someone can save spots for friends.

Some complain that markers and equipment have been stolen in their absence. Others complain about people from Anchorage claiming that the best parts of the beach are reserved.

''The regs say the first net in the water is the one that has the right to fish,'' Shields told the Peninsula Clarion. ''That is a point of contention.''

Kasilof resident Shawna Wolk is worried about potential confrontations.

''It's an explosive situation,'' she said.

Her neighbor, setnetter Ruby Gonzales, compared the dissension to children's squabbles.

''There is always trouble every year,'' she said. ''But it doesn't amount to much. A little mouthing, that's all.''

Shields predicted that Fish and Wildlife Protection officers would be on hand for the opening to head off problems.

The competition for the available space has increased as Alaska's population has risen. The state issues free setnet permits to any applicant with an Alaska resident sport-fishing license. But because the nets must be at least 100 feet apart, the two-mile area only offers about 110 spots, he said.

After a few days, most people catch as many as they want or reach their limit. Then they vacate their space. The limits are one king per household, and a total of 25 salmon for the head of the household plus 10 for each other family member, he said.

''If you can wait a few days, usually you can find a place to fish,'' he said.

The fishery will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and usually lasts 10 days. Last year, it ran somewhat longer and closed at 6 p.m. June 25. Fish and Game decides when to shut down the setnetting based on a guideline harvest of between 10,000 and 20,000, Shields said.

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