'The river eats nets,' says net hanger of NRSHA

Jul 11, 2018

Fishermen try to navigate the challenges of fishing in the Naknek River Special Harvest Area while keeping their nets intact. This can be a hard goal to achieve as boats try to squeeze into the river to catch as many sockeye as they can. 


Marcia Dale hanging net along a cork line.
Credit Hannah Colton

Hundreds of drift and set netters have been funneled into the Naknek River in an effort to help the Kvichak River meet its escapement goal. This means there’s a lot of boats fishing in a small space.

KDLG's Mitch Borden caught up with a net hanger in Naknek to see how fishing in the river will affect a fisherman’s greatest tool.


Audio Transcript:

Marcia Dale has been hanging nets for 30 years and runs the Watzituya net shop in Naknek. Since Saturday, she’s been watched fishermen struggle to catch fish in the Naknek River, which according to her, is murder when it comes to web.


She said, “The river eats nets because they trash them constantly.”


Boats run over other boat's nets, crews get their lines snagged, and sometimes fishermen accidentally wreck their own nets said Dale.


All these crews are fishing in the Naknek River because earlier this week the Alaska Department for Fish and Game announced it would open up the Naknek Special Harvest Area, or NRSHA, in an effort to get more fish up the Kvichak River, which has been lagging on its escapement. This means fishermen can only fish in the Naknek River if they are registered to the Naknek-Kvichak district.


Dale’s phone has been going off a lot since this announcement was made, and she said a lot of fishermen have been rushing to grab old nets.


“They don’t want to put on brand new gear that’s going to go out and get trashed and end up with fish gurry in it in 2 seconds.” According to her, “There are a lot of snags out there. Once they open up the Kvichak it will be interesting to see how many nets they have left.”



Marcia Dale's work space
Credit Mitch Borden

Dale pretty much has a front row seat to the madness. From her net shed, she can easily see boats keeping busy fighting over fish and, she said, “Trying to dodge tenders trying to stay out of the way. Listening to the tenders threatening ‘I’m going to cut your net stay out of the way.’ It’s Just a very narrow channel and everyone is trying to do everything at once.”

Even though she has heard a lot of shouting over loudspeakers, Dale said it has not been all bad,“I did hear one tender, as he left, say to the Naknek fleet ‘good fishing.’ It was the only nice thing a tender has said.”


Fishermen on the east side of Bristol Bay have not seen anything close to the hauls boats are getting in the Nushagak District. Dale says this has made it hard for some fishermen to think optimistically about the rest of the season.


She said, “They aren’t even thinking they’re ready to cry.”


But, she also said hope has not completely left the Naknek fleet. All they need now is for more sockeye to arrive.


“Everyone is waiting for the Kvichak to come in so they can get out of the river and actually go fishing.”


For now, though, fishermen will have to make the best of what they can catch in the Naknek River Special Harvest Area.


Contact the author at mitch@kdlg.org