The Politics of Dipnetting

The Politics of Dipnetting

Another year; another annual column complaining about management of the second red run in the Kenai River by ADF&G Commfish.  It’s an annual deal, so we might as well enjoy it.

Packed up favorite son and his care provider Monday morning and drove south.  Dodged the forest fire and arrived at the Kenai City Dock around 1130.  On the water an hour later with a couple hundred of my closest friends.  Ran out of gas a few hours later with 13 fish between us.  All in all, not a bad day, though we had to work for the fish.

Problem with this was the Monday opening.  ADF&G commfish had the commercial nets in the water for 36 solid hours with back to back to back emergency orders.  They are pretty good at what they do and not a lot of fish make it into the rivers (Kenai and Kasilof) for personal use, dip netters and sport fishermen.  Reason for the EO’s are predicted record number of reds into the river this year as the run appears to be early and large.

Over the last couple decades, there has been a growing frustration and anger at the ADF&G Kenai commfish shop that appears to prioritize the needs of a couple thousand commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet over those of a hundred thousand of the rest of us who chase salmon with hook, line and dipnets.  The personal use (dip net) fishery has been the quickest growing part of the fishery and their needs and desires have been all but ignored as ADF&G commfish prioritizes the availability of the resource for commercial fishing over all other groups.

When there is a large run, ADF&G has essentially three tools available to control the number of fish up the river.  One is multiple EO’s for commercial fishing.  Another is bumping up the number of fish allowed per day and in possession for sport fishing.  A third is to open dip netting for 24 hours a day.  The first tools is regularly used.  The second one is used on occasion.  The final tool is hardly ever used.

I would propose some new limits on what ADF&G can use to manage fish.  The first limit would be to prohibit any emergency openings that keep commercial nets in the water longer than 12 hours in any 24 hour period of time.  Second would be to require participation of ADF&G sportfish offices in Kenai, Anchorage and the MatSu to participate with a full vote in approving any future EO.

These simple changes would go a long way toward balancing the needs of user communities for Kenai and Kasilof red salmon.

Cook Inlet commercial fishermen have executed a regulatory capture of the resource.  Regulatory capture means that they control the political and regulatory bodies that make decisions about what they do.  You need to look no farther than the ADF&G appointees under the last two governors – both commfish people – to prove that point.

When you have regulatory capture, the solution is always political.  The Republican majority in the legislature has heard complaints about Cook Inlet commercial fishing for decades and has done little.  Indeed, there is significant commercial fishing influence among that majority which means that any legislative solution goes nowhere in committee.

But they need to be careful, as the legislative leadership on the democrat side is skulking around positioning itself to come down strongly on the side of sport and person use salmon fishermen.  Les Gara has been active on the Alaska Outdoor Journal Facebook page.  Bill Wielechoski has been a strong advocate of sport fishing here in Anchorage.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a democrat led campaign against current management of Cook Inlet salmon returns ends up as a pivot point for the upcoming throw all the bums out election?  Should that happen, the majority will only have themselves to blame as they have heard the complaints for a long, long time and have done nothing about solving the problem.

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He is a small business owner and Information Technology professional.

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