Not all fisheries get spotlight

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its annual management report looking at all fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet.

While nearly everyone knows about the dismal salmon fishery, there are many fisheries happening in UCI that get much less attention.

Upper Cook Inlet consists of waters north of the latitude of Anchor Point, and is divided into Central and Northern districts with several sub-districts, and is managed by the Soldotna office of ADFG.

The combined districts cover considerable waters: the Central district is around 75 miles long and an average of 32 miles wide, and the Northern district is around 50 miles long and averages 20 miles wide, covering an area around 6,500 square miles.

The herring fishery in UCI is a tricky one to manage, because the glacial waters make aerial surveys unworkable for biomass estimates.

As a result, the Alaska Board of Fisheries has limited the gear type to set gillnets, the least efficient means of harvest.

Along with conservative guideline harvest levels, this has allowed for a low-level commercial harvest, generally in the Clam Gulch area.

Smelt, also known as eulachon or hooligan, is another little-known commercial fishery in UCI.

Caught only with dipnets in the area between the Chuitna and Little Susitna Rivers, and only in salt water, the fishery is limited to 100 tons and takes place between May 1 and June 30.

The fish are generally used as bait or marine mammal food.

Razor clams are another species subject to commercial harvest in UCI.

Dating back nearly 100 years, from 1919, the commercial harvest has fluctuated from no fishery to in excess of 500,000 pounds.

“The sporadic nature of the fishery was more a function of limited market opportunities than limited availability of resource,” the report states.

The eastern side of the Inlet, around Ninilchik to Clam Gulch, has been set aside solely for recreational clam harvest since 1959, although it has been closed in recent years due to a mass die-off.

The western side, concentrated around Polly Creek, is approved for human consumption by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, meaning the clams are tested for paralytic shellfish poisoning.

While there is no harvest limit on the west side, ADFG manages for a harvest of no more than 350,000 to 400,000 pounds.

While the current harvest is from hand digging, prior to 1990 dredges were allowed, although technology never produced a satisfactory machine.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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