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Fisherman Presents Clean Harbors Project to Ninilchik

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Sabine Poux / KDLL
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The Ninilchik small boat harbor was one of the inspirations for the clean harbor project.

There are rules governing what people can and can’t dump at the port in Ninilchik, a small boat harbor that’s made to fit about 30 vessels.

But there’s little enforcement of those rules as it stands. And after the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation received a complaint about the harbor being dirty, one fisherman decided to survey the community to see what users thought about how it was being maintained and what could be done better.

Today, Tav Ammu has data about hygiene at Alaska ports, broken down per location, including Ninilchik.

“When you do these surveys, having the ability to look at location-specific versus overall is super helpful," he said.

Ammu is a fisherman in Bristol Bay and was previously an environmental protection officer for the Navy. He compiled the report as part of his project with university-affiliated Alaska SeaGrant.

He says of the 18 community members and 15 harbor users he surveyed in Ninilchik, about half said they thought sewage was an issue there. That finding surprised him.

“The reason that this survey came about was because of concern raised by a community member in Ninilchik about the state of pollution in the harbor," Ammu said. "And then when we polled the community, it was exactly even about whether or not they thought that sewage was a problem here. So 39 percent said yes, they think it’s a problem, and 39 percent said no. Whereas in Dillingham, where they have a harbormaster who’s very involved, 77 percent thought that it was an issue there.”

Those who were worried about pollution said they thought there would be better sewage disposal if there were better onshore restroom facilities. The public bathrooms in Ninilchik are about a quarter mile away from the harbor and they’re not always open.

Another popular concern in Ninilchik, Ammu said, is that the harbor is overcrowded, sometimes leaving fishing boats to tie up in precarious places. He said he heard from some that as many as 130 boat users could fill the Ninilchik Harbor at once, even though it’s meant for just 30.

Ammu presented his findings to the community of Ninilchik last week. He said people at that presentation raised concerns about the lack of a harbor master.

“And that was something that a lot of people thought was an issue," he said. "That if there was a focal person enforcing and being here, people would be a lot more inclined to follow the rules.”

There’s a federal law, for example, that boaters can’t dump sewage within three nautical miles of the shore. But no one is out in Ninilchik to make sure boaters are following. Enforcement is largely peer-to-peer. Management at the Ninilchik Harbor is split between two state of Alaska agencies — the Alaska Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources, according to his report.

Ammu plans to put up a sign with best practices in the Ninilchik harbor this May. His findings show it could make a difference.

"One of the things we found from the survey is that signs are the best way considered by harbor users and harbor masters to get information across," Ammu said.

Kate Hendryx, of Ninilchik, will have her winning sign mounted at the Ninilchik Harbor.

Ammu teamed up with the Ninilchik School to conduct a sign competition. Students drew what clean harbors mean to them.

The winner, seventh-grader Kate Hendryx, drew a colorful sign, dotted with sea animals, that says, “Keep Our Harbors Clean.” Pending approval, it will be turned into a permanent metal sign, with additional practical information about harbor cleanliness — including rules and regulations for the harbor, dumping requirements and phone numbers and links, in case of a spill.

You can read Ammu's full report at alaskacleanharbors.org.

You can find the original story here.