Naknek River Special Harvest Area's tight fishing ground draws spectators

Jul 10, 2018

 

The Naknek River is a little chaoctic as fishermen compete for fish in the Naknek River Special Harvest Area. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game have mandated fishermen fish in the river to help the Kvichak River reach its escapement goal. This is a challenge for fishermen but it is exciting for locals who now get to watch the sockeye fishery from the shores of the Naknek River.  

 

Drift boats fishing at the mouth of the Naknek River.
Credit Mitch Borden

Fishing Boats are raced around the mouth the Naknek River on Saturday, July 7th, as their crews cast out nets to try and catch as many sockeye as possible.

 

Escapement on the Kvichak River is low. Several days behind where it should be to meet the bottom end of its escapement goal, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game,

 

So the first time in 11 years, fishermen are restricted to fishing inside the Naknek River Special Harvest Area, rather than the entire Naknek-Kvichak District. That entails over 100 drift boats in a confined space, competing for sockeye. From the shore, it looks like chaos. Hundreds of spectators turned out this weekend to watch in-river fishery’s first opener.

 

 

Bumper Metcalf was among the Naknek residents watching from the beach.

He said described the scene as “Just corks and buoys flying and they’re right here at the edge of the water. These shallow boats are right here holding their set, you could light that guys cigarette right there on the bow if you had to.”

For fishermen, this is a headache, but for people like Metcalf, it means a great show. He said, “I was so excited when I heard the announcement. I woke my cousin up [with] ‘They’re gonna fish in the river.”

Onlookers chat during the first Naknek River Special Harvest Area ( NRSHA) opening in 11 years.
Credit Mitch Borden

The “line”, which is the edge of the district where fishermen are allowed to fish is usually far from shore. But when the special harvest area is activated it is only a few feet from the beach.

Latisha Wilkinson said coming out to watch boats battle for salmon has made her summer.  

 

According to her, “It is a complete madhouse and boats are all over each other. You got nets in fronts of boats, boats almost running over buoys, and they aren’t really even catching that much.”

 

Rose Mikkelson agrees, “Man what a mess. They’re just fighting over a couple of fish.”

View overlooking the in-river fishery at the NRSHA.
Credit Mitch Borden

She is in her 80’s and is an experienced fisherman. Mikkelson is currently sitting in her truck watching the boats navigate the scrum and throw out their lines in front of each other, which is known as corking.

On Saturday’s opening, a few spectators have seen some boats collide, but not too many. One person says you will start seeing more vessels crash into each other as more salmon flood the river.

For all the chaos, fishermen are not seeing a big return for their work. The average delivery, according to ADF&G, for this opening was only around 331 sockeye, which really is not a lot. It is rainy, chilly, and from the look of it, stressful on the water. But on the beach, things are pretty relaxed. Rose has a simple explanation for this.

She said, “It’s more fun to watch from the beach than to be fighting the line down here.”

 

In addition to the placing restricitons on fishermen in Naknek, closing the Naknek-Kvichak District also forces Egegik District fishermen into the Egegik River Special Harvest Area. Further, no dual permit boats in any of Bristol Bay's five districts may fish with the the additional 50 fathoms of gear they are normally allowed.

 

ADF&G will continue to monitor the Kvichak River escapement and hopes that improved escapement will allow it to reopen the Naknek-Kvichak District before the end of the sockeye season.

 

 

Contact the author at mitch@kdlg.org.

 

 

Credit ADF&G