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Common salmon gear types in the Cook Inlet region

Alaska salmon fishermen pursue their catch using many methods and gear types. Here are the ones used in our region.

by | November 14, 2023

The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) provides fisheries enhancement and monitoring programs to fishermen who use many salmon gear types in the Cook Inlet region. 

The CIAA board has specific representatives for commercial gear types and organizations, local governments and communities, processors, and one of Alaska’s 12 regional Native corporations, Cook Inlet Region, Inc. The board also includes inlet-wide commercial fishing representatives, for which it solicits petitions.

Each type of salmon fishing uses a different strategy to target salmon returning to their natal freshwater rivers and streams after spending their adult lives at sea. Here are the ones you’ll find locally.

A common salmon gear type in Cook Inlet is the drift gillnetter.
A drift gillnet boat faces choppy seas during a fishery in Cook Inlet. Lisa Ka’aihue

Drift Gillnets

A common salmon gear type is the drift gillnet, which is like a floating fence just below the water’s surface. Fishermen anchor these nets by lines to 35-to-40-foot vessels called “drifters.” Fishermen attach the nets to floats on the top and lead weights at the bottom.  Fishing crews periodically pull the nets back in the boat to pick salmon out of the net and store the fish in the hold.

Gillnets get their name because the holes in the nets are large enough to allow a full-grown salmon’s head to fit through but not the rest of its body. When the salmon tries to back out, its gills become caught in the net. Most gillnet boats in Cook Inlet are stern pickers. They store their nets on a drum on the stern of the boat when it the net is not in the water. 

There are about 470 drift gillnet permit holders in Area H (Cook Inlet region). Many of them are represented by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. Some also members of the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund.

A Set net skiff
Setnet skiffs help shore-based fishermen work their nets along Cook Inlet’s beaches. Lisa Ka’aihue

Set Gillnets

Set gillnets are the shore-based cousins of drift gillnets. Fishermen who use this gear are called setnetters, operating on beaches or just offshore and in small skiffs. Set gillnets are just that: they are set in place on both ends.  Setnetters pull their nets ashore or inside their skiff and pick out the fish. Fishermen then transfer their catch to shore-side vehicles (trucks or tractors) to get them ready for delivery to the processor.

There are About 530 set gillnet salmon permit holders in Area H. Many of these are family affairs with different family members holding permits to fish multiple setnet sites. The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association and the Northern District Set Netters of Cook Inlet represent many of these fishermen. 

This purse seiner pulls up its net near Tutka Bay Lagoon.
This purse seiner pulls up its net near Tutka Bay Lagoon. CIAA

Purse Seiners

A purse seiner uses circular nets to capture a school of fish. These boats slowly close the circle into a pouch or “purse.” A float line made of corks keeps the edge of the net at the surface of the water. Meanwhile a weighted lead line pulls the net toward the seafloor. The crew is able to cinch the bottom of the net using a purse line, which runs through rings along the lead line.

A winch at the back of a seining vessel lifts the net out of the water and tips salmon into the vessel’s hold. By Alaska law, seiners can be no more than 58-feet long. You can easily spot seiners at work when you see the tall winch and a second crewman in a skiff zipping around the net to assist. When not in use, these skiffs ride piggyback on the back of the seiner.

There are about 85 Area H salmon purse seine permit holders. The Cook Inlet Seiners Association and the North Pacific Fisheries Association represent the area’s seiners.

China Poot dip netter
This dipnetter works a favorite fishing hole near the falls at China Poot. Don Pitcher

Anglers and Dipnetters

Sports fishermen and personal use fishermen in Cook Inlet tend to fall into one of two categories: anglers or dipnetters. 

Anglers take rod and reel down to the streambanks and beaches along Cook Inlet and Resurrection Bay near Seward. You can also see them fishing from small motorboats up and down area rivers and in the open ocean in Resurrection Bay and lower Cook Inlet. 

Dipnetters use small nets at the end of handheld poles to catch fish in the area’s personal use dipnet fisheries. The China Poot dip net fishery is one popular location, as are Kenai River and Fish Creek.

Personal use fishermen can also use set gillnets in fisheries such as at the Kasilof River. 

All salmon gear types benefit from CIAA

CIAA’s hatchery, monitoring, and conservation programs are set up to help provide salmon fisheries for all users in the Cook Inlet region. 

To help fund its operations CIAA contracts with processors who use “cost recovery” fishing vessels to catch and sell a percentage of the returning salmon it reared in CIAA’s hatcheries. Commercial fishermen also collect a voluntary 2% salmon enhancement tax to support CIAA.

Get Involved

Learn how you can play a role in helping preserve the salmon fisheries of Cook Inlet, no matter which salmon gear type you use.

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