By Joseph Robertia
Personal-use dip netting for salmon is a rite of summer for an increasing number of Alaskans, who ply the waves of Fish Creek, the Kenai River or Kasilof River. According to data collected from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, more personal-use permits — 35,211 — were issued last year than any year since the fisheries began in 1996. And of the these three fisheries utilized for dip netting, none is growing as fast as the Kasilof River.
“There is a heightened interest in the dip-net fishery,” said Robert Begich, area management biologist for Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish in Soldotna.
According to Fish and Game data, in 1996 only 14,575 permits were issued for personal-use fishing, of which household days fished at the Kasilof River dip-net fishery totaled 1,300. By contrast, the Kenai River experienced 10,503 household days fished that year.
Jumping ahead to 2013, of the 35,211 permits issued, records reveal an eight-fold increase in household days fished at the Kasilof, with 8,556 days fished. The Kenai River, which still draws more people overall, has only had a three-fold increase during this same time period, with 33,193 household days recorded in 2013.
And unlike the Kasilof, which has experienced a steady increase in days fished since 1996, 2013 was the first year the Kenai River had less days fished according to permits records, dropping from an all-time high of 34,374 household days recorded in 2012.
Salmon harvests for this time period also correlate to the increase in days fished, as the Kasilof dip-net harvest swelled from 11,701 salmon caught in 1996 to 88,233 in 2013, while the Kenai harvest increased from 107,627 to 354,727 for the same time period.
Of course, the population of Alaska is increasing, and as more people become residents, more people are allowed to take part in the dip-net fisheries, but Begich said that the rate of increase in the Kasilof fishery is not necessarily related to a growing population.
“We haven’t seen that much of an increase in license sales,” he said.
So what is drawing more people to the mouth of the Kasilof? It depends on who you ask.
“We’ve fished in all three. We fished Fish Creek and the Kenai last year, so decided to try the Kasilof this year, and this is definitely going to be our spot,” said Pedro Bencid, of Anchorage, who swatted away flies while filleting his full bag limit Saturday afternoon at his camp at the mouth of the Kasilof.
Bencid said that while the Kasilof is crowded, and may be growing more so each year, it’s still less overall people than at the Kenai River mouth.
“The Kenai was just way too packed, and also you can’t drive and live right on the beach like you can here,” he said.