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Ninilchik Tribe Reports Catch from Kenai

Photo by Daysha Eaton/KBBI

Ninilchik Traditional Council wrapped up their 2016 gillnet fishery on the Kenai River on Monday.

Tribal officials say designated fishers harvested 723 sockeye, six pinks and 12 coho between July 28 and Aug. 15.

Ninilchik Traditional Council Executive Director, Ivan Encelewski says the numbers show the fishery will not cause harm to king salmon or resident fish. 

“723 sockeye is what the harvest was for the little over two weeks that we fished. Obviously we are extremely happy. It was a tremendous success. We are so excited. I think we proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this fishery worked and it worked exactly as we said it would, basically targeting sockeye and all but eliminating any encounters with chinook and resident species,” said Encelewski.

Tribal officials say they only caught one chinook, or king salmon and one resident species over the entire season – one Dolly Varden trout over 18 inches and one under 18 inches. Both were released.

The tribe began its season on July 28 after receiving approval of their special action request from the Federal Subsistence Board, the body that oversees subsistence activities in Alaska.

Ninilchik has been working to get a permit to fish with a gillnet in the Kenai since 2006. The tribe has been locked in a legal battle with the U.S Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the fishery. This year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was added as a party lawsuit.

U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Spokesperson, Andrea Madieros says the agency still has concerns over the use of a gillnet in the Moose Range Meadows because it is a spawning area.

“We support providing an opportunity for Ninilchik to fish and put food on the table of their community members. We do continue to have concern for the use of a gillnet in that spawning area, the Moose Range Meadows and that is because it is a non-selective gear type. So it is still a concern and the fact is that their proposal would be to fish earlier,” said Medeiros.

The tribe fishes for Ninilchik residents who may not be able to do it themselves. Residents submit permits and are allocated 25 fish per head of household with five additional fish per family member.

The Ninilchik tribe has had the only subsistence gillnet in the Kenai River. Whether they will be able to fish there again next year is up in the air.

The special order was only valid for this season and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife is petitioning the Federal Subsistence Board to do away with the fishery.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.