Study this map carefully because it could be the the next in-river gillnet fishery on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Ninilchik tribe scores another victory in winning a subsistence priority for the Upper Kenai Basin's fish resources. Here's the article from the Anchorage Daily News:
Ninilchik gets Kenai fishing priority
SUBSISTENCE: Federal board finds residents have historical link to fish.
By BRANDON LOOMIS
Anchorage Daily News
Published: November 18, 2006
Last Modified: November 18, 2006 at 02:43 AM
The Federal Subsistence Board has determined that Ninilchik residents have traditional fishing rights on the upper Kenai River and surrounding waters -- a move that could put sport anglers in the state's most popular fisheries at the back of the line.
The board on Friday approved Ninilchik's status for a subsistence preference despite the state's objections, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game may consider a lawsuit, a department official said. Next spring the federal board will decide how Ninilchik residents may fish in the area, and how many fish they get.
The group pushing the change, the Ninilchik Traditional Council, says it merely seeks to spread its fishing efforts across the Kenai Peninsula and can do it without pushing other users off the river. As yet, it has not specified how many of each fish species it seeks from the upper Kenai.
Some who testified against the board's findings questioned whether Ninilchik residents ever fished much around the Russian River or Cooper Landing -- only about 7 percent of village residents say they go there annually, according to the state. But board members disagreed, in part because even if Ninilchik fishermen didn't always go that far inland, the village always has caught fish destined to spawn in the area.
"It's irrefutable that rural residents of the Kenai Peninsula have long-term customary and traditional use of Kenai River fish," board chairman Mike Fleagle said.
Before the board's 5-1 vote, its attorney, Keith Goltz, told members that federal law favors food fishing for rural Alaskans when it can be done without hurting fish populations.
"The purpose of (the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act) is to allow people to continue their traditional lifestyle," Goltz said.
However many salmon, trout and char Ninilchik is allotted, those who use the river now fear it comes out of their creels.
"The fish have to come from somewhere," said Sarah Gilbertson, the Alaska Fish and Game subsistence liaison. "Whether that's curtailing sportfishing or commercial fishing remains to be seen."
The department will review its legal options, she said, based on the opinion that federal managers ignored their own criteria in deciding Ninilchik -- population about 800 and 80 or more road miles from some of the inland waters in question -- has a historical link to the fish.
Just how the ruling affects sport anglers who line the Russian River in crowded "combat" fishing for sockeye or float the Kenai in search of returning king salmon won't come into focus until the board considers Ninilchik's methods and harvest levels in May. But the Ninilchik Traditional Council proposes using in-river gillnets, which is a prospect sure to rile some fly-fishermen and conservationists.
"It should raise an interest (among sport anglers) to become engaged in the process," said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. He said he hopes the board will compromise when it considers Ninilchik's fishing methods, but fears nets in the river could undo years of conservation measures that have promoted large rainbow trout and protected big kings.
Offering Ninilchik a subsistence preference in the Kenai watershed puts all other users -- sportsmen, downstream dipnetters and Cook Inlet commercial fishermen -- at risk of closures in years of poor returns, Gease said.
The Kenai and Russian rivers are the state's top two sport sockeye fisheries, with harvests some years running into the hundreds of thousands, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Kenai also supports the state's largest king and silver salmon sportfisheries.
Friday's decision was not restricted to the two rivers, but covers all federal fresh waters on the Kenai Peninsula from the Kenai River watershed north. In large part it covers Kenai Lake, the Kenai River, the Russian River, Skilak Lake, the Swanson River and their tributaries on stretches that cross the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Under federal law, rural subsistence fishermen have first dibs on fish in federally controlled lands. Most of the Kenai Peninsula's population falls outside the designated rural zone, but Ninilchik is an exception.
The finding that Ninilchik has made "customary and traditional use" of the fish gives the Ninilchik Traditional Council standing for its proposed netting of fish, though the board still must rule how it will be done.
Federal appointees from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service constitute the board.
Ninilchik Traditional Council executive director Ivan Encelewski did not return phone calls seeking comment this week. Council member Greg Encelewski, though, testified to the board by phone on Thursday. He said Ninilchik tribal members hiked or boated to the Cooper Landing area to catch fish before the Sterling Highway reached that area in the 1950s. He also said members had intermarried with Kenaitze Indians, who have an accepted historical relationship with the fish.
That rationale struck one Peninsula senior citizen as absurd when he read a news account of it on Friday. Seward resident Valdemar Anderson, 80, said he remembers tramping the area in the mid-1930s with his father, who homesteaded on Tustumena Lake. From there northeast to Cooper Landing, he said, no one from Ninilchik came inland. "The only net in the water was ours," Anderson said.
While not opposing Ninilchik's fishing rights, Anderson said they can't be based on an assumption that coastal Alaska Natives followed fish upstream. "Good Lord, no," he said. "Why would you travel all the way up there when you get all the fish you need in a net in front of your house? Ridiculous."
Ultimately, though, whether many Ninilchik residents long ago fished the Russian or upper Kenai rivers may not have mattered in Friday's ruling. Fleagle said federal law allows the board to consider a group's use of "stocks," as opposed to fishing holes, so Ninilchik has a claim one way or the other. Goltz added that the law doesn't require that new subsistence fisheries be exact replicas of former practices, but modern equivalents that allow Alaskans to continue living off the land.
In its proposal to be taken up next spring, the Ninilchik Traditional Council wrote that it believes the fishery can be in harmony with other uses.
"The tribe believes that this proposal can be implemented so that it does not cause any disruption to commercial or sport users," according to the request. "The proposal intends to spread the community's fishing effort throughout the Kasilof and Kenai drainages, thereby lessening the impact on any particular river."
Goltz said there is flexibility to count some of Ninilchik's Cook Inlet or lower Kenai catch against a new subsistence limit upstream, possibly helping reach a compromise with other fishermen.