Fishing Livelihood

Alaskans depend on our state's multitude of natural resources for many things, including housing, fuel and food. Many also depend on Alaska's bountiful resources for their livelihood. Such is the case with the Leman family, going back many generations to the Aleuts and Alutiiqs who inhabited Kodiak and Afognak Islands, and other coastal areas of southcentral Alaska.

Fishing is an important livelihood in Ninilchik, where I was raised. I have fished for salmon with my family since my childhood. Since 1959, when Alaska became a state, we have used set gill nets close to shore in Cook Inlet. Before that, Dad fished in the same area with a fishtrap.

We currently have three generations in our family actively fishing together.

Three generations of Lemans

Three generations of Lemans
Loren, Joseph & Nick
Fish site near Ninilchik, Alaska
August 1997

During the short salmon fishing season in July and August, our family joins together at Ninilchik Point to participate in the fishing harvest.

The setnet fishery is hard work, but rewarding as a family activity. Fishing usually opens for short, intense 12-hour periods on Monday and Friday. Sometimes these times are extended and there is little opportunity for sleep.

Fishing is affected by the tides and wind. A good harvest can be hit and miss. Sometimes the salmon run bypasses our nets. At other times the harvest is plentiful, and there is a great deal of jubilation!

The State of Alaska carefully manages our fishery resources. Sonar counters on major river systems count the number of salmon in freshwater. Test fishing is also ongoing during the summer season in saltwater. The Department of Fish & Game follows policies established by the Board of Fisheries and manages fishing opportunity to meet target "escapement" levels in the Kasilof and Kenai rivers.

The pace can be fast and merciless. After nets are set they must be worked constantly. At the close of the "opening," all nets must be out of the water.

We deliver our harvested salmon to offshore tenders or onshore buyers. Fish are weighed in bulk in brailer bags. Nearly all of our catch is red (sockeye) salmon. We occasionally also catch a few incidental pink, king and silver (coho) salmon. A chum salmon is rare in our area.

Every family member is important to the effort. In addition, we are joined by crew who help out with the effort.

Fishing at our site includes setting and pulling gear as well as harvesting fish. However the most time-consuming, backbreaking work is cleaning (picking) the nets. A great deal of seaweed moves with the tide near shore in this area of Cook Inlet. It is a constant chore to remove this moss and kelp from our nets. If this is not done, fish see the nets and do not get caught. Sometimes the seaweed will sink or break nets.

Carolyn and our daughter Rachel cook for the fishing crew. Feeding 4-5 hungry men and growing boys is a challenge! They do this without electricity or an onsite refrigerator or freezer. We enjoy fresh fish and eat it often.

A recent improvement to our water supply now enables us to have running water in the cabin!

The Leman family at their fishing cabin

Carolyn, Loren, Nicole, Joseph & Rachel
Ninilchik beach cabin: Summer 1997

Rachel is a valuable participant. She often picks the fish and trash from the beach nets that have gone dry when the tide ebbs and also helps out in the skiff, usually with her father.

Nicole provides the comic relief and delight that young children can bring! She is good with fetching and carrying, especially when she can use her all-terrain vehicle to help with the job!

Visitors are welcome at our fishing site. Some are even brave enough to help with the work for a few hours to get some fishing experience!

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