By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter
They come by four-wheeler, car, truck and RVs. They line the shore, shoulder to shoulder, in queues hundreds of people long, each holding a large hoop net in hand. Farther out on boats, and even the occasional jet ski, still more people motor along, holding nets underwater. The Kenai River dip-net fishery is only three weeks long, but it annually brings a frenzy of fishing activity to the area, and an associated frenzy of efforts by area managers to manage and protect the natural resources, as well as those who come to harvest.
According to data collected by the city of Kenai, 83 percent of Kenai River dip-netters are not from the peninsula.
“The numbers for this season are still not in, but I think we’ll find the first week of the fishery this year will be equal to weekends in other years, that Saturday (July 19) was huge. Sunday it tapered off a bit, but it has been comparable to recent past years since then,” said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch, in terms of the number of dip-netters observed so far this year.
Participation in this fishery has grown exponentially since 1996, according to data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. In 1996, 14,576 personal-use dip-net permits were issued to state residents, of which an estimate of 10,503 household days were fished at the Kenai River, amounting to 107,627 salmon caught.
By contrast, in 2013, 35,211 total permits were issued, of which 33,193 household days were reportedly fished at the Kenai River, amounting to 354,727 salmon caught (compared to 8,556 household days fished at the Kasilof River, amounting to 88,233 salmon caught).