Category Archives: Cook Inlet

Clam ban digs in — Populations on east-side beaches still struggling

File photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A winter storm on the Ninilchik beach  led to a massive die-off of razor clams in 2010.

File photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A winter storm on the Ninilchik beach led to a massive die-off of razor clams in 2010.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Clam shovels will have to stay buried in the garage for another summer, as the clams of eastern Cook Inlet beaches will be off limits once again in 2016.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game presented its findings from the past summer’s razor clam surveys during a Board of Fish meeting in Anchorage late last month, and the results are a continuation of the ban on harvesting these bivalves through 2016, and possibly longer.

“We learned that from 2014 to 2015, natural mortality for mature-sized razor clams was 54 percent at Ninilchik, and abundance of mature-sized razor clams at all five beaches remained at historic low levels,” said Carol Kerkvliet, assistant area manager with Fish and Game in Homer.

The five beaches are Clam Gulch north and south, Ninilchik north and south, and what Fish and Game refers to as the “oil pad access beaches” that lay between Clam Gulch and Ninilchik.

“In terms of what is causing the problem, we don’t have a silver bullet. There was no harvest on those beaches in the past two years, so that would seem to point to some environmental factor or factors,” Kerkvliet added.

The collapse of the razor clam colonies along the eastern Cook Inlet beaches began several years ago, and some speculated that a huge storm in the fall of 2010 might have started the problem. High winds and substantial waves lashed the beaches and uprooted thousands of clams in Ninilchik, depositing them along the high tide line. As the water receded, they died from exposure in the below-freezing temperatures.

However, Kerkvliet said that in surveys reported the following summer, in 2011, some of the highest clam densities ever were recorded for Ninilchik, with 1,212,311 at the north beach and 1,621,765 adult-sized razors on the south beach.

But by 2013, it was clear razor clam numbers were waning, by as much as 95 percent. Fish and Game issued an emergency order slicing the bag limit of razor clams taken along all beaches from Kenai to Homer from 60 down to 25 clams, but the summer survey that year revealed only 65,688 adult-size clams at Ninilchik’s south beach.

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Clean record —  CIRCAC marks 25th anniversary protecting Cook Inlet from oil

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt reporter

The Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council is in the news these days for the best possible reason — celebrating 25 years of successful operation — rather than anything dramatic to do with its mission to prevent oil spills or pollution in Cook Inlet.

Lynda Giguere is the director of public outreach for the organization, formed by Congress as part of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 in the wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Every day that goes by without an incident is a success for the organization. But it takes far more than just wishful thinking and crossed fingers for that to happen.

“We’re making oil transportation safer, oil spill contingency plans stronger and more protective, we’re steadily expanding our knowledge of Cook Inlet’s water, shorelines, sediments and habitat through biological and chemical monitoring, habitat mapping (and) physical oceanography,” Giguere said in a presentation to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on June 3. “We’re gaining a better understanding of oil, how it moves, and the effect it has on the Cook Inlet environment and shorelines. We’re monitoring industry compliance through permits, regulations and legislation. And we are effectively guiding oil spill prevention, response and planning.”

The organization’s most recent accomplishment is the completion of a navigation risk assessment for Cook Inlet, in which CIRCAC had substantial involvement from start to finish. Now the organization is helping implement the priority recommendations that came from that assessment, most notably the formation of a Cook Inlet harbor safety committee.

CIRCAC’s Cook Inlet Response Tool, which details the coastlines and habitats around the inlet, is available on the organization’s website, and is useful for industry partners as well as the general public.

“You can use this tool yourself, it’s readily available on the website. I’ve used it as a kayaker scoping out beaches,” Giguere said. “… So it’s really helpful not just for oil spill planners, it’s helpful for recreational users.”

Since oil industry activity continues year-round, so, too, do CIRCAC’s efforts, including studying the winter prey and habitat of beluga whales, and developing a network for ice forecasting with cameras throughout the inlet, including a new one at the mouth of the Kenai River. The feed from that camera is available on the city of Kenai’s website.

In fact, all of CIRCAC’s data and developments are made available to other organizations, agencies and industry, as the goal is to work together to protect Cook Inlet.

“The beluga whale study is one example of the CIRCAC-led research and data we routinely make available to our partners and the public on an ongoing basis. Everything we’re talking about is available on our website. We’re working very hard to make as much data and information (and) reports publicly accessible, easy to get to. So that’s been another big effort of ours is to have a very robust, useful website,” she said.

Though its 25th anniversary is a chance for CIRCAC to shine, Giguere said that none of the organization’s accomplishments would be possible without support.

“We can do all this because of the strength of our volunteer board, committee members, hundreds of people who’ve helped make this organization work for 25 years. We have ongoing and new partnerships with industry, agencies NGOs, and the involvement of Cook Inlet citizens and communities,” Giguere said. “So we’re able to carry out those big ideas, goals and projects, some of which have gone on to be statewide initiatives, because of this broad network of support.”

For more information on the organizations, and to access the wealth of information and tools it makes available, visit http://www.circac.org. And to see one of its projects in person, visit the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center this summer to see the “Coastal Impressions” exhibit, a collection of images taken from a project to photograph the entire gulf coastline of Alaska.

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Good tidings — Unusual winter tides avoid stormy possibilities

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Unusually high “spring” tides sprung on Cook Inlet last week, bringing  the potential to exacerbate bluff erosion, especially the unstable slopes around the mouth of the Kenai River. Luckily, the high water did not coincide with high winds or other stormy weather.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Unusually high “spring” tides sprung on Cook Inlet last week, bringing the potential to exacerbate bluff erosion, especially the unstable slopes around the mouth of the Kenai River. Luckily, the high water did not coincide with high winds or other stormy weather. The tides also retreated to lower-than-average levels, as seen here Thursday looking north from the mouth of the Kenai River.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Credence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty might talk about a bad moon rising last week. But luckily for Kenai, though a particularly close new moon caused extra-high tidal ranges, there were no hurricanes ablowin’ at the time, thus avoiding any rivers overlowin’, much less any rage and ruin to the unstable bluffs along the river mouth.

Cook Inlet was awash in its highest tides and widest tidal ranges of the year last week. Anchorage on Wednesday saw a high tide of 33.1 feet at 7:48 p.m., followed by a low tide of minus 5.2 feet at 2:55 a.m. Thursday, for a tidal range of 38.3 feet. At Homer, a high tide of 22.3 feet at 2:55 p.m. Wednesday was followed by a low of minus 4.9 at 9:16 p.m., for a range of 27.2 feet. And at the mouth of the Kenai River, a high tide of 24.9 feet at 4:42 p.m. Wednesday was followed by a low of minus 4.5 at 11:31 p.m., for a rage of 29.4 feet.

The tide reached a high of 24.1 feet at the Kenai River mouth on Wednesday.

The tide reached a high of 24.9 feet at the Kenai River mouth on Wednesday.

The high highs and low lows were created by a conjunction of factors having to do with the position of the moon. A little Earth science 101 refresher, here — tides are essentially long-period waves rolling around the planet as the ocean is affected by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. Twice each month, tidal ranges are a little larger than average as the Earth, sun and moon are nearly in alignment. As seen from Earth, that’s either a full moon — when Earth is between the moon and the sun — or a new moon — when the moon is between Earth and the sun. In both cases the gravitational pull from the sun and moon combine and tug a little harder at Earth’s oceans, making high tides a littler higher, and low tides a little lower.

These are confusingly named “spring tides,” which have nothing to do with the season of spring, but come from the idea of “springing forth.” Spring tides happen twice every 28-day lunar month, all year-round.

In addition to spring tides, the moon also exerts a little extra pull on our oceans when it is nearest to the Earth. That’s called perigee, or a “super moon,” and it also results in slightly higher tidal ranges. Three or four times a year, a new or full moon will coincide with a super moon. This month’s new moon was Jan. 20, and the lunar (pear-eh-gee) happened about a day and seven hours later, on Jan. 21.

All together, that’s called a perigean spring tide, and that combination of factors causes even higher tidal ranges than either factor alone.

That’s what happened last week. Along most coasts around the globe, the effect to tidal ranges is only a couple of inches. But since Cook Inlet already sees some of the highest tidal ranges on the planet, the effect of a perigean spring tide can be 6 inches or more beyond average.

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Heart for Alaska films — Fundraiser hopes to bring family’s journey to the big screen

Heart of Alaska Shaded-14By Chelsea Alward

Homer Tribune

How do you put meat to the bones of Alaska issues without stepping into the realms of the overtly political or insanely technical?

You embark on an adventure, and take others on the journey with you.

Homer filmmaker Bjorn Olson believes such a method is the best way to talk about issues both present and on the horizon in Alaska. After all, throughout history stories have been a primary tool to draw attention to things happening right in the backyard that passing time seems to disguise.

“We call this kind of storytelling ‘cheese and broccoli,’” Olson said. “In order to get someone to eat their broccoli, you put some cheese on it. So the aim I have as the filmmaker, the storyteller, is to create an engaging story that focuses on the adventure and the great Alaskan spirit of getting out and enjoying and enduring the wilderness, and the personal lessons that come with that.”

The project Olson would like to see on his plate is a feature film following the big journey of a small family, Erin McKittrick and Hig Higman of Seldovia. In 2013, the couple embarked on a human-powered adventure around Cook Inlet, covering 800 miles in four months with their children, then 2-year-old Lituya and 4-year-old Katmai. Olson plans to retrace the steps of the family and incorporate footage from their journey, as well as photos and journal entries completed during the trek.

“I followed them and was pretty involved with them getting ready to go,” Olson said. “I spent time with them while they were here, and I met up with them in Cape Douglas when they finished.”

The filmmaker said the project would serve as a springboard to have conversations about Cook Inlet and the future of Alaska, following the precedence of McKittrick and Higman. During their journey, the two asked people the question, “What do you think the future of Alaska will look like in 50 years or so?” Olson said he will do the same.

“It is about addressing some of the big issues,” Olson said. “Climate change, oil and gas, the beluga whales — these things that are integral to our home and life. And if you think about the diversity of the communities along the Cook Inlet … that is such a wildly diverse (journey) in terms of the human element.”

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Jellies belly up — Life’s no beach for jellyfish washing ashore in large die-off

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jellyfish have been washing up on Kenai Peninsula beaches for the past few weeks, with the highest concentrations between clam Gulch and Kasilof. The die-off of jellyfish is part of its annual life cycle, but it usually occurs later in the year and doesn’t often leave such noticeable evidence.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jellyfish have been washing up on Kenai Peninsula beaches for the past few weeks, with the highest concentrations between clam Gulch and Kasilof. The die-off of jellyfish is part of its annual life cycle, but it usually occurs later in the year and doesn’t often leave such noticeable evidence.

By Joseph Robertia
Redoubt Reporter

The low-angle sun setting behind volcanoes across the glimmering water and painting the sky a vivid orange red, the last of the seasonal birds calling out overhead, the cessation of seasonal crowds and the lapping of waves breaking on the smooth stones and sand of the shore — going for an evening stroll on the beaches of Cook Inlet can be a serene endeavor in the fall.
But this year, beach walkers are finding the aesthetics of this autumnal experience impacted by a strange sight — thousands of slimy, brown, gelatinous jellyfish strewn along the surf.
“I usually get a couple of calls a year from people back in bays, but this year there’s been a lot of calls coming in, many from the Kenai Peninsula. There seems to be more washing up earlier and at once,” said Kristin Cieciel, a research fisheries biologist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Juneau.
The species of jellyfish she is referring to is Chrysaora melanaster, commonly called the Northern sea nettle or brown jellyfish. Its genus ranges along the entire west coast of Canada and the Lower 48, but this particular species makes its home from the Gulf of Alaska north to the Chukchi Sea.
For the past 10 years, NOAA has conducted numerous fisheries and oceanographic surveys around the state, of which a jellyfish component has been an integral part of a much broader fall survey for pollock, cod and salmon. The jellyfish are caught while surface-trolling in such large quantities that they’re counted not by numbers, but by weight.
“This year we had catches that were enormous. The final numbers are still coming in, but anecdotally I can say the numbers were in the tons,” Cieciel said.
This isn’t particularly out of the ordinary for jellyfish, but two things did strike her as odd. The surface temperatures were higher than average — as much as 5 degrees above average by some estimates — and many of the jellyfish she was seeing were already beginning to die.
“When they’re dead, they just float there and often with damaged tentacles or no tentacles at all, but when alive they’ll be pulsing and moving up and down the water column, and their tentacles, which are around 3 to 9 feet long and spindly, are easily noticeable,” she said.
“The thought is that this species only lives one year. In earlier winter the gametes — eggs and sperm — are released, and by fall that’s it for them. But, the annual die-off is usually later. It’s usually October that we start seeing them die off. This year I was seeing them dying in the southeast Bering Sea survey at the end of August and in September,” Cieciel said.

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‘Buts on the beach — Casting for halibut? Shore enough

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. An angler carries a halibut, caught from shore near the mouth of the Kasilof River recently, while his friend continues to monitor his line from a camp chair. The from-shore fishery is becoming a popular way to try for halibut.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. An angler carries a halibut, caught from shore near the mouth of the Kasilof River recently, while his friend continues to monitor his line from a camp chair. The from-shore fishery is becoming a popular way to try for halibut.

By Joseph Robertia and Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

Some parts of Galen Neptune’s Cook Inlet halibut fishing endeavor were much the same as anyone else’s. The Kasilof resident baited a herring on his hook, plunked it as deep into the water as he could and waited for the line to twitch. Within an hour it did. He snatched the rod, set the hook and began to reel, wondering the usual halibut-fishing thoughts of whether he’d find his sought-after flatfish on the other end, or something else hauled through the water.

“Not sure what it is yet,” he said. “I can still feel my weight bouncing off the bottom. I don’t usually feel that with a halibut.”

He continued reeling as fast as he could and was rewarded with his target species.

“All right! It is a halibut, maybe an 18- to 20-pounder,” he exclaimed.

But that’s where the similarities stop. For one thing, Neptune’s gear was not the typical, stout-and-relatively-short halibut rig, with plenty of line for plunking a line down into the water. His was a longer surf-casting rod, which he used to fling his heavy weight and attached line as far out to sea as possible. Even more striking was the difference in transportation to and from his fishing hole — no trailer, no boat launch and no boat required. Neptune walked the beach at the mouth of the Kasilof River, out to the water’s edge at low tide. Under a cloudless blue sky he hammered a pole holder rigged from a piece PVC pipe clamped to a length of rebar into the wet, black sand. After baiting his hook, he pulled back his surf rod and let his line fly as far as he could into Cook Inlet, in the manner of about 20 other fishermen this recent spring day, attempting to catch a halibut from shore. It’s becoming a popular alternative to paying for a charter trip or launching one’s own boat to fill the freezer with white-meat filets.

Galen Neptune, of Kasilof, pulled this 20-pound halibut from the water.

Galen Neptune, of Kasilof, pulled this 20-pound halibut from the water.

“This is my fourth year,” Neptune said. “I came down after a neighbor told me about it and it’s been getting more crowded each year. Right now everyone is still nice.”

This last statement is possibly a bit of prognostication, in the vein of longtime Alaskans harkening back to the uncrowded experience of sportfishing the Kenai River 20 years ago compared to recent times, with hundreds of sportfishing guide boats carrying thousands of clients throughout the summer months, and private anglers standing shoulder to shoulder in some places onshore.

Will the peninsula’s beaches along Cook Inlet become that same way, packed with salt anglers seeking halibut like the Russian River is stacked with Kenai flippers seeking sockeye? Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, said he doubts a beach fishery will ever get too crowded, due primarily to the inconsistency of success in the shoreline halibut fishery.

“I started three summers ago after I saw other people doing it and catching halibut, but it was a long time ’til I caught one. I fished for six days, at least two to four hours each time before I got one. And since then I’ve caught a lot more flounders and sharks than I have halibut,” he said.

Mensch’s buddy, Joel Zebill, of Soldotna, added that the shoreline fishery wasn’t for those who need to have success at the end of the day.

Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, casts into Cook Inlet in hope of catching a halibut.

Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, casts into Cook Inlet in hope of catching a halibut.

“I’m not a patient person, so this can be tough for me. This can sometimes be six hours of sitting, rather than fishing, so if I wanted to be sure of halibut I would still do a charter,” he said.

Mensch said that the sizes of the fish aren’t the famed barn-door-sized halibut, either.

“Most of what I’ve caught have been in the 10- to 15-pound range — good to eat, but small. I’ve been told other people have caught larger ones, though,” he said.

Christopher Batin and Terry Rudnick, in their book, “How to Catch Trophy Halibut,” caution that while it is possible to catch halibut from shore, it likely won’t be big ones. They recommend fishing at the mouths of rivers and streams where dead and dying salmon wash out into the saltwater, particularly spots with a drop-off, ledge or similar habitat.

“If you happen to be fishing in the right place at the right time, you may hook a halibut from shore. But don’t expect lots of action,” they write. “… And always, always fish with patience, the key to success.”

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Set net ban rejected — Department of Law finds proposed initiative would constitute inappropriate allocation of resources

Photo 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 in July, many set-netters, such as Aaron Kershner, a crewman for a Kasilof set-netter, protested the closure in front of the Fish and Game offices on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Aaron Kershner, a crewman for a Kasilof commercial set-netting operation, participates in a protest in front of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in July 2012 during a shutdown of the Upper Cook Inlet set-net fisheries. Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announced Monday he would not allow an initiative petition seeking to ban set netting to proceed.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A proposed ballot initiative that would ban set-netting in nonsubsistence areas of the state, Cook Inlet chief among them, was snagged from going to the signature-gathering stage by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who announced Monday that he was rejecting the initiative on the recommendation of the Alaska Department of Law.

The newly formed Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance submitted the measure Nov. 6 as a conservation effort to protect declining king salmon runs, charging that set netting catches too many kings, even though the gear type targets other species of salmon.

Clark Penney, executive director, said in a release Monday that the rejection is “puzzling” and the alliance is considering appealing the decision. It has 30 days from Monday to do so.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Sockeye salmon are known for putting up a good fight. All their twisting and wiggling once caught in a gillnet can lead to a big tangle when trying to get them out.“I struggle to see the logic or the legality of this decision,” he said.

The Division of Elections determined that the initiative proposal does have enough valid sponsors to continue to the step of gathering voter signatures statewide, Treadwell notes in a letter to the AFCA. However, he states that the Department of Law recommended rejection because the effect of the proposal would result in an allocation of resources (in this case, king salmon) prohibited by the Alaska Constitution, based on the 1996 Alaska Supreme Court decision in Pullen v. Ulmer, finding that preferential treatment of certain fisheries over others is an appropriation not allowed by initiative.

“Were this type of initiative permissible, voters could continue to reallocate stocks to any fishery simply by eliminating specific gear or particular means and methods of catching fish — for example, the next initiative might propose to eliminate purse seining, trawling, dip-netting or catch-and-release sport fishing in particular areas to increase harvest opportunity for other types of users. This would ‘prevent … real regulation and careful administration’ of Alaska’s salmon stocks, contrary to the purpose of the prohibition on initiative by appropriation,” according to the Department of Law’s opinion.

The AFCA points out that Alaska’s first ballot initiative regarded banning the use of fish traps as a fishing method, as it was seen as outdated and destructive. Penney also states that the terms of the proposed ban would be applied statewide.

The Department of Law opinion takes a different view — that by banning set netting in all areas of the state without a subsistence designation, the ban would still effectively target Southcentral because other urban areas — such as Juneau and Valdez — don’t have set netting. As such, the ban would allocate kings away from the inlet’s east side set-net fishery to in-river sport and personal-use fisheries, making it an appropriation not allowed by initiative, the Department of Law states.

Penney disagrees.

“This effort is but the latest in a long string of initiatives where Alaskans have exercised their rights to protect fish and wildlife by regulating improper methods and means for harvest,” Penney states, pointing to Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New York, California, Washington and Oregon as other states that have restricted or banned the use of set nets.

“In the 25 years since the first state took this step, no set nets have been allowed to return. Not one fish processor in these states went out of business after set nets were banned,” Penney states.

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