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China Poot dipnetting: A look at an Alaskan personal use fishery

The China Poot dipnet fishery is a personal use fishery supported by CIAA and area commercial fishermen.

by | June 29, 2024

China Poot diptnetters
Personal use fishing at China Poot Creek at the barrier falls. Len Fabich

In Alaska, there are a number of different types of fisheries: commercial, sport, personal use, and subsistence. Personal use fishing as defined by the State of Alaska is:

…the taking, fishing for, or possession of finfish, shellfish, or other fishery resources, by Alaska residents for personal use and not for sale or barter, with gill or dip net, seine, fish wheel, long line, or other means defined by the Board of Fisheries.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game

In a nutshell, it’s a way for all Alaskans to fill their freezers with fish.

People often use the terms personal use and subsistence interchangeably when describing personal use fisheries such as the Kenai River personal use fishery. They are not the same thing though. Subsistence uses are defined as the “customary and traditional uses” of wild resources for food and other uses. 

To take the Kenai River personal use fishery as an example, this fishery is allowed by the State of Alaska for all Alaska residents. Kenai River dipnetting was never a subsistence fishery with traditional and customary uses by area residents. 

The current personal use fishery was put into place in 1996 and has grown in participation ever since, with throngs of people descending upon the mouth of the Kenai River in July. In 1996, there were 15,000 permits issued for this fishery and in 2023 there were 27,500 permits—keep in mind this is one permit per household not per person so you will see a lot of families camping on Kenai beach during this fishery. Kenai locals know to get their grocery shopping done before dipnetting season when the store shelves tend look like locusts came through!

There are other, less popular, but important personal use fisheries in the Cook Inlet region, including the China Poot personal use fishery.

“Exploring Alaska Show” video that highlights China Poot personal use fishing, featuring Dale Bagley and his family. Dale is the current CIAA Board President.

The development of China Poot fisheries

Leisure Lake, also known as China Poot Lake, is located a few miles across Kachemak Bay from Homer. It had no natural sockeye salmon population due to waterfalls that prevent salmon from reaching the lake. To enhance commercial and sport fisheries, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) starting releasing sockeye fingerlings to Leisure Lake in 1976. 

Staff from ADF&G took eggs and milt from donor broodstock and incubated the fertilized eggs at mainly at Crooked Creek Hatchery. Staff then released the juvenile salmon annually back to Leisure Lake where they continued to rear until leaving the lake as smolt. 

The adult salmon return to China Poot Bay on their way back to the freshwater creek. If they make it this far (dodging predators and fishermen), the waterfalls bring them to a grinding halt in their journey. Because the falls are impassable, the run is completely harvested and thus the need to use a donor broodstock each year. 

In 1984, the Alaska Board of Fisheries designated an area from China Poot Creek from the freshwater to the waterfalls as a personal use, dipnet fishery held July. Because a permit is not required for this fishery, it’s difficult to tell how many people participate annually but we know its popular with those that have boats or can get a ride on a boat to China Poot Bay. Fishermen can then walk up the creek all the way to the falls to fish.  

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association steps in

In the early 1990s, we took over the Leisure Lake program from ADF&G. We use both our Trail Lakes and Tutka Bay Lagoon hatcheries to provide this program. We collect the eggs and milt from returning sockeyes to Tutka Bay Lagoon. Then we rear the fertilized eggs to the fry stage at our Trail Lakes Hatchery. We release the fry to Leisure and Hazel lakes where they continue to grow until migrating out to sea as smolt. We release another portion of fry to Tutka Bay Lagoon. 

After two or three years growing in the ocean, adult sockeye salmon return to China Poot and Neptune where they are available for harvest, including in the China Poot personal use fishery. We project a return of 29,140 hatchery-incubated sockeye salmon to China Poot and Neptune in 2024.

The adult salmon returning to Tutka Bay Lagoon are used for broodstock for Leisure and Hazel Lakes, starting the cycle all over again. 

Another benefit we provided from this program was a tent platform for Kachemak State Park users to enjoy in China Poot Bay. The platform was built to Alaska State Park standards and originally used as a camp site for our crew counting smolt leaving China Poot Creek. 

Commercial fishermen provide these fisheries for all

One of the major funding sources for CIAA operations is Cook Inlet commercial fishermen through a tax levied on their commercial salmon harvest. These funds, along with cost recovery help fund the sockeye sport, personal use, and commercial fisheries in Lower Cook Inlet.

The China Poot sockeye returns continue to provide important commercial, sport, and personal use fisheries in the Kachemak Bay area to this day.

Are you headed to China Poot?

If you are boating to China Poot Bay for the personal use fishery, learn more about how to stay safe.

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