Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Thursday, 19 July 2007

The Reds are Running

Kenai, Mouth of the Kenai River, Cook’s Inlet, Alaska

Cook’s Inlet runs along the Kenai Peninsula for about 150 miles. It’s lined with 12,000 foot snow-covered active smoking volcanoes. I used to fly up and down here once a month to deliver supplies out to a radar station at the end of the Aleutian Chain a few miles from Russia. The trip from Washington State to the end of the Aleutians took 20 hours. After a 100 hour trip to Southeast Asia, you could just squeeze in an Alaska supply trip at the end of the month before running out of hours.

Seeing the volcanoes again from our perch on a bluff brought back the old memories. I remember falling asleep with my face in a radar scope cowl over the remote Pribilof Islands. I remember flying here between pink and purple fantasy cotton candy cloud layers at dawn.

The fishing regs here are incredibly complicated. I read a sign this morning on the Kasifof that says King salmon with adipose fins can only be taken on Thursdays and Saturdays. There is a picture of an adipose fin but no other explanation. I go to Google and learn that hatchery fish have adipose fins removed before release. The fish with adipose fins are therefore wild salmon that get extra protection five days a week.

For part of the season, kings between 44 and 55 inches in length must be released. As I understand it, this restriction has expired, but Kings over 55 inches must be presented to Fish and Game within three days before they are filleted.

The residents are lined up shoulder to shoulder now along mouth of the Kenai with dip nets. They stand in lines of about fifty waiting for a turn to run down the beach and scoop up the reds. It’s called subsistence fishing.

A resident is allotted 25 reds annually plus 10 reds for each dependent. We see a family, cooking jars of red flesh chunks in pressure cookers, preparing for the winter. Reds run about 10 pounds each. This is a big event in summer. Tomorrow is the weekend and with the news of the run, the beach should be even more crowded as the 24 foot tide and fish come in.

I buy some rubber boots that come to my crotch so I can stand on the shore and attempt to snag a red or two before we continue the trip. About 40,000 reds a day will enter the river for the next two weeks. They swim along the shore making them easy to scoop up with dip nets. You have to be a resident to use a net. I'm nervous about catching a fish that violates regs. However, no one seems to be checking.

This morning, I walked down to the quiet Kasilof River. A moose waded out a few feet from me and then swam across the river. These are the moments that a volunteer nature photographer lives for. It’s a job. Someone has to do it.

Finally I’m in a place with enough bandwidth to post pictures to my blog. I catch up on about two weeks worth of blog pictures.

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