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Last Week To Dipnet For Kenai Sockeye: A Few Things To Know!
Here's the "good" and bad news about dipnetting on the Kenai this year. And when it comes to information resources that might help you, of course, there's an app for that. The way I see it, the primary rule is to protect future runs, and sometimes that means fishing closures when the runs are weak.
Here's what I know, if you haven't been following this year's later sockeye run on the Kenai, and fishing politics.
The "good" news is that with very low returns so far (have hope, the runs have been late the last few years), the Department of Fish and Game hasn't YET ordered an early closure of this fishery, which is currently scheduled to end on July 31. That means if you have a chance, you should get out there soon. Commercial fishing has been stopped at this point given the low return numbers.
The bad news is that if fish don't start surging in soon, the Department is considering an early closure.
I have asked that the Commissioner look into extending the Sockeye personal use dipnet season IF fish, as they have in the past few years, start surging in late. July 17 used to almost automatically be the day the surge started. In the past three years fish have come in later than that, and strong numbers have arrived into August - past the July 31 personal use dipnetting closure. Last year I unsuccessfully asked for a dipnet season extension as commercial boats were out catching these August fish during a very strong 2016 run.
With low returns so far, the Department has been monitoring the below-average run closely.
Here's the basic principle. If adequate numbers come in to produce strong future returns, the fishery will remain open for commercial fishing into August, as usual. If that happens, there is no biological reason for the Department to close the fishery for the hundreds of thousands of Alaskans who do not own a commercial fishing permit, and who dipnet. If a strong sockeye run is late, fishing should be allowed, late, and that should be coordinated with the City of Kenai, which bears the brunt of cleaning up and managing the beaches.
But What About Protecting Kenai Silvers?
There is another conundrum in managing this fishery. The Kenai River Silver run starts in earnest in August. It's a generally accepted practice to close commercial fishing if those fish are intercepted at significant rates, though this year the Board of Fish relaxed rules protecting the Kenai River's silver salmon run (I wasn't happy about that). If material numbers of silvers start getting netted, many, including myself, think fishing for sockeyes in the ocean in August should be carefully managed to protect this delicate run.
So the dipnet fishery season extension request I made to the Commissioner was contingent on both: 1) the health of the sockeye run to make sure enough fish pass to spawn upriver; and, 2) making sure we protect the health of the Kenai River's wild silver run. We want to fish. But we don't want to harm future fishing runs.
Dipnet Resources: There's An App for That.
Here are some resources to get you the info you need for a successful dipnet season!
There’s an app for that. Just about all the information you might want (tides, fees, fish counts, etc.) is condensed into this app provided by the City of Kenai: http://www.ci.kenai.ak.us/dipnetapp.
Another go-to resource is ADF&G’s fish count data. The count for Kenai reds can be found here: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/FishCounts/index.cfm?
Keep in mind that this count is 19 miles upriver, so it’s really a count of the fish that have already passed the dipnet fishery at the River's mouth. But it still gives a good indication of where things are headed. When you start to see bigger numbers in the count, like 25,000 and even better, 40,000 and 50,000 a day, it’s a good time to get to the river.
Many folks like to check on the commercial fishing schedule before planning their dipnet days. You can listen to a recording with commercial fishing announcements and other information at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm? adfg=commercialbyareauci.main. You can also call (907) 262-9611 to hear the same recording. Some dipnetters like to avoid commercial fishing openers because they can decrease the number of fish that come in on a tide. Some say it doesn't matter. And you should expect, with the run being so far behind schedule, that if a run starts coming in strong, the Department will engage in its usual practice of allowing steady commercial openers toward the end of the season.
A relatively new, and very useful, source of info is the City of Kenai’s dipnet cameras. You can actually check out the beaches beforehand to see how crowded things look. The cameras show both north and south beaches, as well as a number of other areas: http://www.ci.kenai.ak.us/dipnetcamera. With one week left, though, you don't have a lot of choices about what day to go.
Finally, ADF&G also operates a test fishery at Anchor Point. According to ADF&G, this is not necessarily a great indicator of what you’ll see in the Kenai and Kasilof due to the time lag in the data (it takes three to five days for the fish to reach the rivers from this point), but it can at least give a sense of the volume of salmon entering Cook Inlet. Generally, to be considered high, the index on this page would be above 100: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyareauci.salmon#research.
Of course, even with the best information, dipnet fishing depends on luck. At least that's how I see it when I don't do well. It's skill when I do.
Best of luck if you go out this week. I hope you're enjoying your summer!