Gillnetter angers dipnetters with proposal

Posted: Monday, February 19, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A Ninilchik commercial gillnetter is asking the Alaska Board of Fisheries to restrict personal-use salmon dipnetters to the same bag limits as sport anglers.

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The board plans to take up the proposal by Steve Vanek in March.

The proposal calls for an end to quasi-subsistence limits for Alaskans who scoop salmon - mostly sockeye - using hoop nets on long handles. Under current regulations, state residents can fill their freezers with 25 red salmon apiece, plus 10 for each additional household member.

"Tell me what people are going to do with 100 fish, or even 50 of those big Kenai River reds," Vanek said. "And then they go sportfish the rest of the year."

Sport limits for rod and reel have been three sockeye a day and three in possession.

The fisheries board has declined previous efforts to trim the dipnet haul, most recently a 2005 plan to limit a household of five to 35 fish, and smaller households to 25. Vanek's proposal, however, points to a growing divide between two groups of Alaskans who say they rely on sockeye to feed their families.

"For the working Joe, it just stinks," said Ken Federico, a Wasilla carpenter and single father who takes his daughter dipnetting on the Kenai Peninsula each year. "I know these commercial guys have to feed their families too, and they bought the permits, but I think they're asking more than what they should be allotted."

The proposal would extend statewide, even though the dipnetting hot spots are on the Kenai, Kasilof and Copper rivers. Vanek said the Kenai River's salmon were fully allocated before the dipnetting program began in its current form in 1996, and the annual pilgrimage to the beach at Kenai takes hundreds of thousands of fish from fishermen who rely on them for income.

"I know there's going to be a big outcry over it because people have gotten used to it and they think it's their right," Vanek said.

Roland Maw, executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drifters Association, said it's probably time to reassess the bag limits of such a popular fishery, but the proposed restriction to sport limits makes the debate too emotional.

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