Openers receive mixed reviews

Commercial fishing makes money for some, disappoints others

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The additional time Cook Inlet commercial sockeye salmon fishers received over the weekend amounted to, for some, five straight days of fishing and was a great help to many fishers.

"Those last few openings made our season to where we can start turning some profit," said Nikiski setnetter Reid Kornstad. "We had a couple of good openers, but those were the money makers."

But some fishers said the extra fishing time made little difference.

Fishers were allowed an additional three hours to fish on what would have been a regular 12-hour day on Thursday. Then the east side of the inlet was opened to fishing from Friday to Sunday as a result of a tremendous run of reds that Alaska Fish and Game officials said pushed both the Kasilof and Kenai river commercial fishery management areas near or above initial expected salmon returns.

But during those three days, driftnetters were confined to fishing in the Eastside Corridor, a strip of inlet stretching from just north of the Ninilchik River to Colliers Dock in Nikiski, and extending from a mile and a half off the eastern inlet shore to as far out as five miles at some points.

The corridor is established to regulate fishing in the inlet to allow salmon to reach the Northern District of the inlet during Fish and Game-designated fishing periods. Fishers can see where they are in the corridor from a predesignated map on their global positioning systems.

"For the most part, the drift fleet doesn't do well in the corridor," said drifter Mark Doumit. "The fish usually hit the beaches."

Ray Toste, a 38-year fisher from Westport, Wash., said any extra day helps, although the fishing wasn't always as good within those confines. He said he caught a combined total of about 600 fish during the emergency fishing time.

"It's more economically feasible to go out one day in the (entire) inlet, than three days in the corridor," Toste said, "because it's less wear and tear on the boat."

Some fishers were packing in their gear for the season, citing low prices as their reason for calling it quits for the year. Doumit said he had a flight Tuesday evening back to Cathlamet, Wash.

"It's just about really a disappointing season," he said. "Mainly because of the price."

He said fishers could pay between $5,000 and $10,000 just to get ready for the season. And at an average of 55 cents per pound, fishers would have to have an excellent haul to recoup those expenses.

"It's been real hit and miss," Toste said. "Even if you caught the luck of the draw in poundage, it wasn't worth a lot."

State Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, also a driftnet fisher, said he didn't go out at all over the additional days.

"I'm not going to go out there and fight a line to fish the corridor when I've got regular fishing days left," he said. "Some people did good, but that was few and far in between."

He said the only good place in the corridor for catching reds was right on the line that separated legal fishing from illegal fishing.

"I'm not going to take a chance on fighting the state," Wagoner said. "Rather than getting into a battle with Fish and Game, I just stayed away."

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