The ProcessHow we do it...
In the winter of 2013, we sold our shore based set net operation and purchased a 40’ gill net boat, the “Night Hawk” formerly the “Brian”, and a Cook Inlet drift gillnet permit. The boat had sat neglected for the previous 4 yrs and had been a leased boat in the years prior so it was in need of some major work. I replaced the 210hp 3208NA/TD 506 with a dealer reman 435hp 3208TA/TD 507. Since the other systems were suspect also, I did the following: replaced two leaking in hull fiberglass diesel tanks with two new 160g alum tanks, all new fuel lines/filters, all new hydraulic hoses, new wiring for all elect systems, new electronic engine controls, new gps/radar/VHF, new gauges, flush decked the aft work deck.
To fish commercially in Alaska, you must have a commercial fishing permit for the area you want to fish and the gear type. A Cook Inlet drift permit allows you to fish the upper area of the inlet from just north of Homer up to the Forelands Point. Currently (Dec 2013) permits are selling for around $90,00.00 and prices fluctuate based on recent fishery success and prices paid by the processing plants. Four years ago a friend sold his permit for $27,000.00…
Cook Inlet is broken into 4-5 small fishing districts and each evening you call the State of Alaska Fish and Game to find out if you get to fish the following day and which one of the districts you get to fish in. Fishing time or “openers” are determined by Fish and Game biologist. Daily sonar counts are monitored and as long as the fish heading up the river to spawn are meeting the escapement goals, commercial fisherman are allowed to fish. Fishing time is not guaranteed however. Depending on the location, we may leave the Kenai river mouth the night before to catch a favorable tide heading the correct direction to take us to the fishing grounds.
Our nets consist of 3 – 50 fathom (300’) long shackles of web held together on the top by a cork line and on the bottom with a weighted lead line. The actual mesh is 5 1/8” diamonds hanging 45 meshes deep.
When its time to fish, we both “scout” the water surface looking for “jumpers” indicating fish are in the area or we talk to other fisherman on the radio. When we are ready to set the net, we throw a buoy over the stern that is attached to the corkline and drive the boat forward as the net streams out the back. We then drift with the current keeping our net in a somewhat taut, arc shape. When its time to bring the net in, we engage a hydraulic reel to pull the net up into the boat as we pick the gilled fish out. The catch is then put in brailer bags layered with ice. Back at the river mouth, we pull up to the dock at the processing plant and have our catch unloaded with a crane.
At the plant, the fish are processed into packages ready for shipment. Fish for our Chico markets are filleted, vacuumed bagged and flash frozen ready for freezer trucking to CA.