While Alaska has not felt the brunt of the country's economic downturn, many residents still rely on catching or killing table fare to offset grocery store expenses. As such, the personal-use dipnet fisheries on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers are popular for packing the freezer with free meat.
"Dipnetting is pretty important to my family," said Aaron Watson of Anchorage, dipnetting with his family at the mouth of the Kasilof River on Wednesday.
Watson said he annually takes part in the fishery, but with the current economic crunch, he is being more careful with this drives down from the big city.
"Normally, we may come a couple of weekends in July, because you never know when the big push will come in, but with gas prices being what they are, we decided to just make one drive down this year and camp for the week," he said.
As to why he relies on the fish, Watson said it is simple mathematics.
"Salmon's what in the store, $7 or $8 dollars a pound? But, we may get, hopefully, 30 or 40 salmon while we're down, and with each salmon weighing between eight and 10 pounds, it's really quite a savings," he said.
Alan McCaleb of Healy shared similar sentiments after dipnetting on the Kenai River. He said he tries to eat nothing but wild-caught meat as his main protein source.
"I don't buy meat from the store. I rely on moose, game and salmon. It's a lifestyle choice, but I do it for health reasons as much as anything, due to the nutritional value. But, it is also a lot cheaper," he said.
McCaleb said he tries to time his trip down to ensure the best possibility of going home with a cooler full of fillets.
"It's a lot cheaper to dipnet 50 salmon that it is to buy 50 salmon, and if I time it just right I can get that many and have enough to eat fresh salmon a couple of times a week, and then vacu-pack and can the rest to last throughout the year," he said.
Garret Piehl of Anchorage said he now comes down for the fun of dipnetting, but he remembers a time when he relied on it to feed his family.
"I have four grown kids, but when they were younger and lived at home, it was pretty important. It really kept the food bills down," he said.
The popularity of the dipnet fisheries has become obvious to more than just those folks willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with other anglers in the cold water. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has ordered a second printing of 2009 Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use Salmon Fishery permits.
Officials say they are ordering another 5,000 permits to supplement the 30,000 permits already printed and distributed to 63 area vendors and the area Fish and Game offices. The new permits are expected to be available for pickup and distribution today.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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