Monthly Archives: July 2012

Beached — Set-netters protest fishing closure

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Nets and skiffs sit onshore in set-net fish camps south of the Kasilof River on Monday, inactive as the commercial set-net fishing closure enacted Thursday remains in effect.

Redoubt Reporter

The signs being waved by Cook Inlet commercial set-net fishermen during several days of rallies in recent days outside the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office on Kalifornsky Beach Road, as well as in downtown Kenai and Soldotna, are a range of adroit to plaintive to biting, and most bluntly succinct:

“Let us fish,” they decry to the Fish and Game officials who issued an order July 17 that, as of Thursday, curtailed the set-netters’ commercial fishing season for sockeye salmon before it had even really begun. Some fishermen had been able to fish three tides, while others only got their nets wet once.

“Unfair,” “Take back our river,” and, “Honk if you love set-netters,” read others, encouraging support from onlookers, whether they be Cook Inlet commercial drift-net fishermen, professional fishing guides, guide clients, dip-net fishermen or private sportfishing anglers; neighbors in the community or neighboring Kenai Peninsula communities, state residents from elsewhere in Alaska, or visitors from out of state and beyond.

All of them — Kenai drift-netters, Sterling fly-fishermen, Anchorage dip-netters, Soldotna guides, Texan guide clients and German rod-and-reel sportfishermen — still have the ability to fish for the abundant run of sockeye salmon heading into the Kenai River. It’s just the set-net fishermen who sit with their nets high and dry, denied access to the sockeye fishery from which they make their living, in the name of conserving a low return of late-run king salmon.

“We feel like we’ve been doing a very uneven burden-sharing in this conservation. We’ve got the brunt of it. We’re basically the only user group that’s not involved in this sockeye harvest that’s going on right now,” said Robbie Williams, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association and a set-net fisherman at South Cohoe in Kasilof since 1981.

Paul Shadura, with KPFA and a third-generation commercial set-net fisherman on the east side of Cook Inlet, put it even more bluntly than the most sharply worded signs:

“We understand conservation. We’re not interested in fishing unless the fish are available. We reluctantly take those burdens. We don’t exactly accept what the department’s evaluations are — we think they’re very flawed — but to take that opportunity completely away and decimate all these families is a disaster, and what we feel is allocative in nature,” Shadura said. “It’s just an aberration for the department to implement this without even consideration for the communities and the fishermen in those communities. This will be a reverberation for the rest of our lives, and for some of us — like myself who are third-generation fishermen and whose family has been here for over 100 years doing this on the beaches — to decimate us and put us out of business is a travesty.”

Without fishing work to attend to, set-netters have an abundance of time to protest, rally support and stew over the questions they’d like answered. They find most of the answers being offered to be bitter pills to swallow. Many explanations they question or quibble with, if not reject altogether.

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Filed under commercial fishing, fishing, Kenai River

Set to rally — Fishermen seek support to get nets in water

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. With plenty of time on their hands due to the commercial set-net fishing closures imposed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, many set-netters, such as Aaron Kershner, a crewman for a Kasilof set-netter, have begun protesting in front of the Fish and Game offices on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Redoubt Reporter

The quizzical looks of the passing motorists said it all, “Why are they here?”

That’s a question the band of several hundred Cook Inlet commercial set-net fishermen who walked along the highway in Kenai on Friday were asking themselves. If given their choice, there was another place the fishermen would rather have been — out on the water hauling in the thousands of sockeye that were surging into the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.

But due to an emergency order put into effect by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Thursday, they can’t. Commercial set-netters are the only user group not allowed to fish for sockeyes, their fishery shut down after the Kenai River was closed to all sportfishing for kings in order to conserve a dismally low return of kings. Set-netters were shut down, too, in an effort to spare returning kings from getting caught in the beach-launched nets.

Meanwhile, to try to avoid overescapement of a bumper crop of returning sockeyes, the in-river sport and personal-use dip-net fisheries were liberalized by doubling the bag limits in the former and increasing the fishing times to 24 hours a day in the latter. Drift-net commercial fishermen also are seeing increased opportunities to harvest sockeyes.

“It’s all political, not biological,” said Chris Every, a commercial fishermen for the last 42 years, 22 of which has been as an east side set-netter. Not allowed to fish his family site just south of the Kenai River, Every organized the Friday rally and march in Kenai, then in front of the Fish and Game office on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

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Harvesting costs, not fish — Set-netters start season unable to recoup startup costs

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Will Faulkner, a Kasilof commercial set-net fisherman, adds up his losses for the season so far on Monday evening, a time when he’d normally be fishing, doing so alone in his empty cook shack, where his crew would normally be crowded into. The only fish to be seen at his site Monday is hanging on the wall behind him.

Redoubt Reporter

For Kasilof commercial fisherman Will Faulkner, the continued closure of the set-netting season is painful on many fronts. He is in many ways a Renaissance man, having worked many jobs to get to where he is today after having come to Alaska more than a decade ago with little more than $1 in his pocket and a backpack and long ponytail on his back.

He brought with him a strong work ethic and saved what he made from his various jobs over the years to put toward his future. He used some of his savings to get property, then a home, and for a time he ran sled dogs in winter all around the state.

Fifteen years ago he began working as a crewman for a Cook Inlet commercial set-netting outfit, but he knew he could only go so far working for someone else. Eight years ago, he made the decision to venture out on his own as a set-netter and bought the permits, nets and another associated gear necessary. It was a small business he intended to grow, and until this year he has been able to keep that dream alive.

“I bought in hoping to grow something for myself, rather than just being a crewman year after year. I started with such little stuff, but I worked hard and always invested what I made into more gear for the next season, doing it all myself, just my wife and I,” he said.

This year, however, has Faulkner wondering if all that hard work was for nothing, as he once again had invested in this coming season, but so far only has 35 fish to show for it from the one day he was allowed to fish. His bank account isn’t growing. Instead, his debt is, at an exponential rate.

“I own on a new motor and have spent a lot of other money toward this season that won’t be coming back. My truck may be repossessed any day now, but I’ve managed to keep the power on. I had hoped to do some siding work on my house, but that’s not going to happen now. A lot won’t be happening now,” he said.

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Filed under commercial fishing, Kasilof, Kenai River

8-plex practice makes perfect — Firefighters make real response to fake fire in apartment building

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Firefighters from Central Emergency Services respond to a mock fire of an apartment building on Birch Street in Soldotna, as part of a training drill Saturday. The apartment building was scheduled for demolition after the training was complete.

Redoubt Reporter

As the call came in Saturday morning, everything started to roll — fire engines, tanker trucks, a ladder track and all the associated firemen, fully clad in oxygen tanks and their head-to-toe protective gear.

“It’s a full response,” said Gordon Orth, assistant fire chief at Central Emergency Services in Soldotna.

Not even minutes, but seconds, later, the blur of red flashing lights arrived at an eight-plex apartment building on Birch Street behind KeyBank and the Moose is Loose bakery in Soldotna. No flames could be seen, but thick plumes of smoke were rising from around the door at the far end of the building. The crews sprang into action, running numerous, long water hoses as thick as a man’s arm, then the crews split up for a multipronged attack on the blaze.

Firefighters broke down the front door and released a large belch of black smoke. Down on their hands and knees to avoid standing in the rising heat, they crawled into the apartment looking for injured victims.

Another firefighter went around the back of the complex and broke out a back window with a long pole with a hook on the end. Still others scrambled across a ladder extended from a fire engine to the roof. Once on the roof one used a chainsaw to begin tearing through the roof like it was his life, not just the lives of those possibly trapped inside, he was attempting to save.

Luckily, there was no one needing rescue, as the fire and fire department’s response was a drill conducted for practice. Watching from a safe distance, though, it was tough for the dozens of onlookers who gathered to watch the dramatic proceedings to believe this was just practice.

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Frills of the hunt — Book seeks better representation of women hunters

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Ethel Leedy. Ethel Leedy, a hunting legend in her own time and still hunting at 84 years old, poses with the Alaska brown bear she took in 2007.

Redoubt Reporter

Few genera are so inherently dramatic as hunting stories. The stakes are literally life and death, and the details are endlessly variable — from the quarry sought to the method and means used; the lengths of time and distance covered; the weather and geographic conditions in which the event unfolds; and the background, experience level, strategy, motivation, purpose, patience and harvest philosophy of the hunter.

Each element has the potential to determine the outcome, from the minutiae of how a gun is sighted to the magnitude of a charging brown bear.

At least, that’s usually the case when the hunter is male. When that’s not the case, all those myriad details and the consequence they hold tend to get compressed, downplayed or glossed over, save one — that the hunter is a woman.

“When guys tell hunting stories, they’re all different. Every little detail takes importance. There’s significance in everything. When it’s a woman, a lot of times the import of the story is her gender — anything beyond that doesn’t matter as much,” said Christine Cunningham, of Kenai.

Cunningham is a hunter herself, which makes her part of the fastest-growing segment of that tradition, bucking the otherwise declining trend of participation across the country.

“Hunting in general was on the decline. The only demographic that was increasing was women,” Cunningham said, referencing a nationwide survey in 2006. “We’re the ones that are new hunters. We’re taking it up, we’re involving families in it. If you’ve got the moms telling the kids it’s OK to go hunting, I think it does a lot for hunting, for a tradition that is on the decline. I think women will be at the forefront of bringing it back.”

The growth in numbers of women taking up hunting has spurred a growth in interest in that trend. But often, Cunningham said, women hunters are portrayed flatly, as just that — women hunters, not hunters who happen to be women.

“There’s so much written about women hunting and the movement or the general interest about women as hunters, but there’s not a lot of women telling their own stories. Not to be stereotypical at all, but it’s been a predominantly male tradition. A lot of the stories are a father to son experience, and they focus on the trial and the trophy. And if it’s a woman, a lot of times you see the stereotype of a girl in a bikini hunting,” Cunningham said. “I think, even in Alaska, where everybody probably knows a woman who’s a hunter, they don’t really know what that means, and it means a lot of different things.”

Cunningham has been immersed lately in those different things. Rather than spending as much time as usual this year at the shooting range or in the field, honing her skills in obtaining meat for her table, she’s been seeking tales of women hunters in Alaska and honing her writing craft so as to share those stories in a way that honors and prioritizes what’s truly important to and unique about each of them, beyond the simple detail of gender. The result is her forthcoming book “Women Hunting Alaska,” which she recently sent off to her publisher, with an expected release in January.

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Common Ground: Summertime frame of mind

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

I could hear the driver of the car talking, but I wasn’t listening — not closely. While he talked, I thought about the immensity of fishing

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Christine Cunningham shows off the black bass she caught on one of oh-so-many recent fishing trips.

plans that would span the next two months.

A trip to remote western Alaska to mouse for leopard rainbows as well as four other species of salmon, a 13-hour boat ride to fly-fish for black bass, a 10-hour road trip to camp, hike and fish around tangled lakes in the Interior, several hikes into the mountains to try my hand at a new-to-the-west form of Japanese fly-fishing, canoe trips requiring portaging and camping, as well as fishing the Kenai, Russian, Resurrection and Swanson rivers for reds, pinks or silvers, and myriad streams and lakes for trout. I’d nearly forgotten about hunting season.
My mind was focused on fishing — not just the fishing at hand, but also reading books about fishing and dozens of magazine articles about fishing, all between cups of black coffee and spooling line.

At six in the morning, the air along the highway smelled like fish — a hundred thousand red salmon were about to hit the Kenai River. The oncoming traffic was armed with dip nets, the streets were lined with visitors, and a clapboard sign we passed advertised fresh halibut for $19 a pound.

Hell, even when I had a moment to log on to Facebook, post after post was about fishing, so that I sat like a rat at the feeder bar hitting the “like” button so repeatedly that the dose was sure to cause cancer if I didn’t get to fishing again — and soon.

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Art Seen: Drink in new design — Gallery spaces hold plenty to ponder

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photography by Carrie Coombes on display at Odie’s Deli in Soldotna this month uses clothes hangars as unique framing.

I’ve been coffee-shop hopping in Soldotna again, and found photography at both the Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street and Odie’s Deli, Kathy Matta’s amazing natural lacquer fish (that I’ve already reviewed) at the Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway, and a grouping of mostly watercolors, with a few pastel renderings thrown in for good measure, at the Cottonwood Clinic gallery on Marydale Avenue.

Stephanie Snyder, whose work is on display at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk, moved here in 1999 from Montana and has long been interested in photography, even winning first prize at a local fair while in high school in Montana.

There was an awful lot to take in, and I found a few that particularly caught my attention. Her captures of old cars were enjoyable, and

Photography by Stephanie Snyder is on display at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk in Soldotna.

especially fun because she wasn’t shy about filling the frame with them, although I can’t help but think that even tighter shots with more varying angles might have been interesting.

Easily my favorite piece was a shot at a pier. The composition is good and the texture is fantastic. Rusty metal, corroded wooden planks, choppy water with an exposition on texture — the image is basically duotoned (gray and a deep maroon) and quite successful. Her barn-wood frames on some of the pieces are quite quaint. I am hoping, though, that folks realize that framing photography right up against glass risks moisture trapping, and should not be used for any long-term framing needs.

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