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In the first half of the 20th century several Ninilchik families operated fish traps along the eastern shore of Cook Inlet. Some, like that of my father, were hand traps. These were built with spruce poles which has been pealed of their bark, erected on the sand flats when the tide was out, and run totally with hand power. Hand traps could be built only as far out into Cook Inlet as the lowest tides would allow construction by hand. Other traps were made of much larger poles which were driven into place in the Inlet bottom by engine operated pile drivers. Pile traps could reach much farther out into the Inlet.
Fishing traps were a very efficient method of catching fish. Because they were so large and so efficient, only a limited number of fish traps could profitably operate in Cook Inlet. For this reason, when Alaska became a State in 1959, the use of fish traps in Alaska (except for a few operated by Native Alaskans in Southeastern Alaska) was abolished. Those families who previously depended upon fish traps for their livelihood had to change to a different method of commercial fishing, or leave fishing for another kind of work. Most Ninilchik men stayed with fishing, since that has always been a Ninilchik tradition and a primary source of income for Ninilchik families.
Today a number of men from the old families of Ninilchik serve as guides for fishing tours in the area. See the names of some of them on my Ninilchik links page.
Today some Ninilchik families fish in Cook Inlet with drift nets (attached to a drift boat which floats along with the tide). A number of Ninilchik drift fishermen shelter their boats in Ninilchik's small boat harbor:
a Ninilchik fish trap (44K)
Ninilchik boat harbor (80K)
Other families use set nets (permanently tied to the beach or ocean floor, waiting for the fish to get caught in them as they swim north in Cook Inlet toward their rivers of origin):
reeling set nets into a boat (86K)
part of the day's catch (102K)
fishing a net (48K)
Some Ninilchik families go outside the Ninilchik and Cook Inlet area to purse seine near Seldovia or around Kodiak Island.
Beside fishing commercially for salmon, some Ninilchik families also catch halibut (in Cook Inlet) or herring (in other areas of Alaska) commercially.
In "the good old days" commercial fishing received highest priority for fish harvesting within Alaska. In recent times, however, commercial fishing has had to reduce its share of the harvest, yielding it to an increasing population of avid sports fishermen. Whereas previously some commercial fishing might take place five days of the week today the standard fishing week within Cook Inlet allows for only two 12-hour fishing periods per week, on Mondays and Fridays, unless sufficient escapement of fish up the spawning rivers allows for special "emergency" openings. Fishing within Alaska today is carefully monitored by biologists who attempt to ensure the return of good numbers of healthy salmon to our rivers each year. They also try, within an often pressure-packed political climate, to balance the needs of each kind of fishery within Alaska, whether it be commercial, sport, or subsistence.
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