Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
January 2011

Behind the Scenes of the Upper Cook Inlet
Personal Use Fisheries

By Kristine Dunker
caption follows
Participants in the Upper Cook Inlet personal use fisheries.

If you’ve dipnetted in the Kenai, Kasilof or Fish Creek, you know the excitement that comes when a fish hits your net! Dipnetting for salmon is a truly unique Alaskan experience.

Each year, families from across the state gather at the mouths of the Kenai or the Kasilof to try their luck. At times, these streams can get pretty crowded. If you’ve ever stood on the bluff above the Kenai during the peak of the fishery and watched all the hustle and bustle below you, you may have wondered how such a large and unusual fishery is managed. If so, read on, and we’ll take you on a behind the scenes tour of the data collection process for the Upper Cook Inlet personal use fisheries.

It starts with the permit. If you’ve dipnetted before, you know what this is. Each household that participates in the personal use (PU) fisheries is required to obtain one each year. The permit allows you and your family (or other household members) to participate in up to four Upper Cook Inlet PU fisheries. These are the Kasilof set-gillnet (June 15-24), the Kasilof dip net (June 25- August 7), the Kenai dip net (July 10-31) and the Fish Creek dip net (open by emergency order). In order to legally participate in any of the fisheries, you have to have your permit on you and accurately record your harvest before leaving your fishing location.

During the spring each year, we print between 30,000 and 40,000 permits. The number printed is based on the participation in previous years. The popularity of the Upper Cook Inlet PU fisheries has been growing, so we now anticipate that at least 30,000 permits will be needed. By Memorial Day weekend, we distribute these out to 62 license vendors throughout the state. Most vendors are located in Southcentral Alaska, but ADF&G offices in Fairbanks and Juneau also receive a few hundred permits. From year to year, we track how many permits each vendor distributes so we know how many the vendors will need the following year.

Vendors are given careful instructions on how to issue permits correctly. For instance, you need to have a valid fishing license in order to obtain a permit, and the vendor is required to check this. The vendor also has to verify that you are an Alaska resident. When you go to get your permit, you must show them your license and ID, and the vendor will fill out the top half of your permit. This section contains your name, address, fishing license number, driver’s license number, household size, and names of your household members. Permits all have unique identification numbers on them. The vendor will tear off this top half known as the “vendor copy” and give you the bottom half. This bottom half is your “harvest card”. The numbers are the same between your harvest card and the vendor’s copy. The vendors mail or deliver their “vendor copies” to our offices, and we have a team of data entry staff in the Anchorage office that enters all of this vendor information into an extensive personal use database. This is how we retain a record of all the permit holders each year.

caption follows
View of the Kenai dip net fishery

The next step is your responsibility. Every permit holder has an individual role in the management of the Upper Cook Inlet PU fisheries because you are collecting and submitting your household’s harvest data to us. As mentioned earlier, you must record your harvest before you leave your fishing location. To report this correctly, you have to check the box on the permit next to the fishery you participated in, list the date you fished, and record the number of each species of salmon or flounder you harvested. You can fish multiple times. You just have to record each date you fished separately. The harvest limits are 25 salmon for the head of household plus 10 salmon for each additional household member (total for all Upper Cook Inlet PU fisheries combined). So, as long as you don’t exceed this limit, you can fish as many times as you wish under the same permit within a calendar year. You just need to take care to report accurately and timely. On occasion, you may be asked by an ADF&G employee or a state trooper to see your permit and your fish. Please don’t be alarmed if this happens. We have staff patrolling the fisheries to answer questions and double check that people are reporting correctly on their permits. All permits are due back to ADF&G by Aug. 15th. The backside of the harvest card is self-addressed, so this is as simple as placing a stamp on it and putting it the mail. If you are more comfortable, you can always drop it off in person at any of the ADF&G sport fish offices. Regardless of your choice, the one thing that is certain is that accurate and timely reporting is vital to the management of these fisheries, and each of us is responsible for our own harvest data.

Now occasionally it happens. You lose your permit, your dog eats it, or is goes through the wash. All of this and then some regularly “happens” to people. We absolutely understand that’s how things go sometimes, but we still need the data for our management purposes. Therefore, we give everyone a second and a third chance to submit their harvest data if they were unable to make the August 15th deadline. It must be stressed that getting your permit turned in on time is obviously the best choice, but it you weren’t able to, you will receive a reminder letter from us in late September. Remember that database of all of the vendor copies? Well, as the harvest data come in, our data entry folks enter the harvest data as it is received. By the end of September, we obtain a list of all non-respondents from the database, and that is who receives the reminders. Essentially, these reminders are copies of your original permits with a note that we haven’t received your data yet. If you receive one of these letters, you are asked to fill it out as if it was your original, and send it back in.

On occasion, households that have already turned in their permit may receive a reminder letter. When this happens, it is usually because the permit was lost in the mail, or there was a timing issue. It takes about two weeks for the reminder mailing to be sent out, so if the original permit was turned in during that period, reminder letters will already be in transit. If this ever happens to you, we certainly apologize for the inconvenience but request that you send back the reminder anyway just to be sure.

On average, there are usually about 6,000 outstanding permits by the end of October. We proceed with the reminder letter process once more and send out a second reminder letter. By the end of November, we typically have greater than 85% of the harvest data back from the participants. For our management purposes this is exceptional because we can accurately estimate the total effort and harvest based on the permits we did receive.

caption follows
Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use Permit. The top half is the vendor copy. The bottom half is the harvest card.

Participation is determined by counting all of the records from the vendor copies we receive. Usually, approximately 100 vendor copies get lost in transit. Harvest cards that we receive back for which there is not a corresponding vendor copy are called “orphan permits”. At the end of the data collection season, usually mid-December, we add the number of orphans to the number of vendor copies, and this gives us the total participation in the Upper Cook Inlet PU fisheries.

Effort and Harvest estimates are determined by compiling the data for the permits received by the Aug. 15th deadline and the first reminder letter. Together, these permits are all considered in compliance, and the permit data are summed by the number of days fished in each of the fisheries (effort) and the harvest of each species in each fishery (harvest). The respondents to the second reminder letter are treated as a sample of “non-compliant” households. Their harvest and effort data are expanded to cover the number of outstanding permits. In the end, the totals from the compliant households and the expanded totals from the non-compliant households are added together to give the final estimates of effort and harvest in each of the Upper Cook Inlet PU fisheries. Therefore, even though there are permit holders who do not return their data every year, we are able to account for their harvests and factor that into our fisheries management. Still, it is critical that you return your permit every year. In the event that the return rate for permits would substantially decrease, our estimates would become less accurate. The more permits we get back, the more accurate our estimates. This is why it is so important that we all take responsibility for our data when we partake in this uniquely Alaskan tradition.

Kristine Dunker is a fisheries biologist with Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She oversees the Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use permit program. Please contact her with any questions regarding the permitting process. 907-267-2889 or

Subscribe to be notified about new issues

Receive a monthly notice about new issues and articles.