Jul 20, 2010

Kenai, Alaska: Dip Netting

I love to stumble across surprises when I travel and the dipnetting in Alaska was such. For three weeks in July, when the salmon are running, a few beaches in Alaska, including the Kenaii pictured here, come alive and allow residents to dipnet. Just stick your net in, wait til you feel a salmon swim right in, then drag him up on shore and gut 'im.
Families come from near and far, in campers and tents, to stake their claim on a part of the beach. It soon becomes one big party, reminiscent of ancient traditions, a joint effort at gathering food for the winter.

Shortly after arriving at Kenai, Doug and Brielle and I went rotating. Just to see what we could find. And this, my friend, is what we found. This young lady in her yellow slicker was pulling in her first fish as we walked on shore. The dipnet process involves a net almost 5' in diameter on a pole probably 12' long or more. The fisherman holds the net against the tide as long as it takes until he/she feels a salmon in his/her net. Then he/she flips the net against the ground and drags it ashore. Dump the salmon out of the net and bop it on the head til it dies. Slice it, clean it and throw it in the cooler, tossing the guts aside for the seagulls.
I, personally, don't have the patience to deal with all the screaming gulls, but apparently, they do. The bopping on the head perplexes me. Is that more humane than to suffocate them as the SC fishermen do? Why smash their heads to smithereens?
The regulations are fierce and well enforced. There is a 25 fish limit for the head of household and ten fish per additional family member after that. You have to clip their tail fins and mark your dipnet card for each fish. The beach is well policed.
We met some great folks while we were watching the whole thing. While Doug talked with the yellow slicker gal above, me and B went to talk to this family. They had a cooler full after 4 hours and were headed home for the night. They freeze the salmon each year and whatever isn't eaten by the next season will get canned by Grandma Helen (last on the right) to make room in the freezer for the new batch.

When Doug came down the beach to catch up with us, we met John Harris of Juneau. He claims that his grandfather, Richard T. Harris co-founded Juneau, married an Indian and received no fame for co-founding the town. He was rather upset about it all. Doug had a great conversation with him, digging out family roots and all. Then ol Mr. Harris dug into his cooler. Doug said, "Whatcha got in that sack, Mr. Harris?" and I shrunk. NO! Please. Anything but that. Please don't ask him what's in the sack.
-But we lucked out. Rather than, oh.... say... explosives..... old Mr. Harris had smoked salmon in his sack. Nothing but smoked salmon! I expelled my withheld breath as Doug tried a bite of Mr. Harris' smoked salmon.
As we left the beach, I noticed a fish count. Now if that don't beat all. In case you aren't upset enough at "the one that got away," there is a sonar detector up river that counts all the salmon that pass by, uncatched by the dipnetters downstream. As we left, there were 1,311 King Salmon that escaped and 14,434 Reds..... all headed upstream to spawn and die unless the fly fishers catch 'em along the way. What a sad, sad life. I found myself routing for the salmon, cheering them on. (not a great way to make friends in Alaska)

My other Alaska Posts:
The Seward Highway
Kenai: Dipnetting
Kenai Fjords
Seward: Exit Glacier
Alaska or Busted


Mom said...

What a party, looks like great fun to me----------yeah right!! Interesting though.

Sarah Frick said...

you have to strike the salmon on the head to kill them instantly. If their suffering is prolonged, they secrete toxins that ruin the meat. Just fyi:)

Poof said...

Thanks, Sarah, that's interesting. You are so lucky to live in Alaska! We loved it when we visited.