Bill Would Establish Priority for Dipnet Fishery

Aaron Selbig
Salmon carcasses line the Kenai River
beach during dipnetting season.
Aaron Selbig photo

     A bill that would place a priority on personal-use dipnet fishing has been working its way through the system since it was introduced in the state legislature last year. The bill had a hearing in the House Fisheries Committee Tuesday.

     The language of the bill is fairly simple. It calls on the state Board of Fisheries to – quote – “place restrictions on all other fisheries before restricting personal use fisheries.”

     "I think I'm on the right side, representing Alaskans," said Representative Bill Stoltze, the Wasilla Republican who introduced the bill last year. So far, the bill hasn’t made it out of House Fisheries, where it received a hearing Tuesday.

     Stoltze told the committee that his bill has broad support, not only among his constituents but with all of the estimated 33,000 Alaskan households that go dipnetting every summer.

     Representative Lynn Gattis, also from Wasilla, is on the Fisheries Committee. She agreed with Stoltze and promised she would sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor with him. She said dipnetting is an Alaskan tradition.

     "These are people with kids ... with mud up to their knees," said Gattis. "They're filling their freezers. We've got to help people have that opportunity."

     Charles Swanton is Director of the Sport Fish Division at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He said his department is – quote – “neutral” on the bill. He says that as things stand right now, sockeye salmon are supposed to be regulated with commercial fisheries in mind. He said any change to that would have to be considered by the Board of Fish.

     Because of a scheduled House floor session, Tuesday’s hearing was cut short. Committee chairman and Homer Representative Paul Seaton promised that Alaskans who had signed up to testify about the bill would have another opportunity to speak at a later date.