Hundreds of fishermen stood chest deep in the brisk Alaskan river. Each held a five-foot net attached to a long metal pole. The only sounds were the quacks of seabirds and occasionally a new angler plodding into the water and asking, “have you caught anything yet?” Down the beach, someone shouted, “They’re running!” As she and others began dragging their poles through the current they felt the familiar thumping of a sockeye salmon bouncing around in their nets. In Alaska , out-of-staters often pay $200 to $500 for an afternoon of guided fishing. But, if you’ve lived in the state for a full calendar year, you gain a rare privilege, one that is proving all the more essential as the pandemic causes a spike in unemployment and hunger. For a few weeks in July and August, all resident Alaskans are permitted to catch multiple coolers-full of sockeye for free. All they need is a net. Amid a festival atmosphere, Alaskans by their thousands wade with their dip nets into the mouth of the Kenai River, a few hours’ drive from Anchorage, known for its prolific quantity of sockeye, and into its twin, the Kasilof River, just down the road. […]

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