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Fish On: Summer Dipnetting in Alaska

Photo credit: Alexi Ueltzen, Creative Commons Licensing.
Photo credit: Alexi Ueltzen, Creative Commons Licensing.

It’s July. And that means dipnetting on the Kenai and Kasiloff. And I’ma get mine.

I recently had relatives up from Outside. I’ve talked to them about dipnetting before, but I don’t think they get it. I mean really get what it means to dipnet. What it means to be an Alaskan and have the opportunity to partake in this most unique activity.

Like many an Alaskan, I get my permit for both the Kenai and the Copper. I try to fill the permits at both. I can. I smoke. I fillet. I freeze. And I eat it right out of the river.

My kids hate it, but salmon is what allows us to live here comfortably. Fish is the protein source that I can afford. And I’ve got a house full of it.

Photo credit: D. Sikes, Creative Commons Licensing.
Photo credit: D. Sikes, Creative Commons Licensing.

I try to stay out of the politics of dipnetting. And there are politics are a-plenty. No, I focus on the bounty that the fish bring my family and I try to honor that bounty. On the Kenai I fish Kasilof. I like the south beach and the relaxed attitude of the folks who fish there. I can’t say there’s a sense of community there, but there is a sense that everyone who is there is there for the love of the fish. It’s not only Alaskan to dipnet, but an expression of freedom to do so.

Where else are there rivers so filled with fish that you can use a big old net to just scoop them out of the water? And if there are rivers as alive as these, is there anywhere else where there is the freedom to do so?

I hear people complain about the number of rules and regulations that Alaska has in place, particularly when it comes to our natural resources and how the government is intruding into our lives. I don’t like the man keeping me down anymore than the next guy, but I’ve also come to realize that the human animal isn’t that good as self policing.

I have three children and when they have families of their own I want them to have the same chance to go down to the river and stand to their waists in the water all night long just in hopes of catching some fish to savor during the long cold winter. Because of this desire, I sometimes choose to not completely fill my permits. Or I don’t bother getting a king stamp and don’t fish for king. I try to clean up after myself on the beach and I try to help clean up after others.

In short, I try to be a good steward of the resource so that it is there for the next generation. The problem is, though, that too many aren’t concerned about the future. There used to be a shared concept that we should make decisions based on the effect those decisions will have several generations from now. We need to think about the long term. Too often, every move we make is based only on what the immediate outcome will be. How it will benefit us right now.

Part of this is greed, yes. But a large part is because our world is so much more complex than it was even a generation ago that no one person has a strong enough grasp on how the myriad systems that make up our world interact with one another an how tipping the balance in one will upset others, be they natural or man-made systems. We simply don’t have the cognitive abilities to trace all of the possible outcomes for any decision, so we revert to making the decision with the best immediate gain, be that deciding to take an extra fish or two from the river, implementing a tax structure that benefits only the rich, building or not building a bridge, bulldozing trailer parks to make way for condos, or buying a bottle of water instead of using the tap.

I’ll keep dipping for my fish. I’ll still fill the freezer and pantry. But I’ll also do the best I can to ensure that we have fish for the next generations and the freedom to use public spaces — like the beaches — from which to gather the bounty. It might take me a bit longer to pack up and clean up after the fishing is done and I might end up picking up trash that isn’t mine, but it’s a small price to pay.