Members of the Kenai City Council heard public testimony Wednesday night regarding how the city will approach the personal use dipnet fishery this summer. Costs to keep the beaches clean and rules enforced have been going up in concert with growing crowds, now numbering between 10,000 and 15,000 people during the three-week sockeye surge.
There were several takeaways from Wednesday’s work session. There’s way too much fish waste being generated during dipnetting season, the city’s options to clean that waste are limited because of the hours of the fishery and the cost of cleanup, and it’s going to take a coalition of interested parties to get much done about it. But more than that, Kenai’s famous dipnetting is becoming a strain on residents, too.
“There’s a lot of people that come by our house,” said Carolyn Snowder. She lives on Cannery Road and addressed the council during its work session.
“During that three weeks in July, it’s like a little city right there, and we’re right in the middle of it,” she said.
Snowder has lived in the neighborhood near the south beach access point for the past six years, but not for much longer. The crowds, the noise, the trash; they’ve become too much.
“We had somebody actually with a big trailer last year that we advised not to drive their trailer down there and he did it anyway and got stuck and then they want us to help. It’s hard.”
All of those things have made Snowder decide to put a for sale sign up, and she’s not the only one.
“I can count nine houses right now within a mile on Cannery Road that are for sale, and I think that (dipnetting) probably has a lot to do with it,” Snowder said.
The city council has already had one work session to try and identify strategies to alleviate some of the worst side effects of the fishery. City Manager Rick Koch last month presented six alternatives, and went over those again with Council Wednesday. Mostly they involve ways to get fish waste off the beach, whether through the use of more fish cleaning stations and receptacles or outlawing fish cleaning on the beach altogether.
Council Member Bob Molloy prefers option three, which is something of a compromise. It’s called the "Gut and Gill" option.
“That would involve setting up containers on the beach for solid waste, buying more equipment to do raking on the tide line twice a day if we’re allowed to do that. If it’s open 24 hours a day we can’t do any raking,” Molloy said.
The hours the fishery are open are determined by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
So, with option three, there would be more places to gut and gill your sockeye, but the heads stay on and you fillet those bad boys somewhere else. The problem, Molloy said, is that those things cost money, which would need to come from increased revenues associated with the fishery (camping and parking fees) and he doesn’t sense a lot of support from Council on increasing those fees.
Further, because it’s a state fishery, the city needs direct management action from the Department of Fish and Game to see any changes. That will likely take a coalition of interested parties like the cities of Kenai and Soldotna and the Borough and the ears of our state legislators. Koch said Wednesday he doesn’t anticipate drastic changes for 2013, but increased lobbying efforts could help in the years beyond.