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Dipnet season largest ever, report says

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If it seemed like there was a massive influx of people on the Kenai Peninsula during July — even more than usual — that’s because there was.

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According to the 2011 Dipnet Report, released in October by the city of Kenai, the area saw the greatest activity to date during the season bringing in a non-grant revenue of $320,634. That number is $33,599 more than last year’s non-grant revenues.

“It was the biggest year in revenues,” Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said. “It was the biggest year as far as volume of participants as well.”

The non-grant expenditures for 2011 were $302,262.67, meaning revenues over expenditures came out to be $18,371.33, which is where the city has been historically, Koch said.

“We don’t make a profit,” he said. “You can ask anyone in business, revenues are just a measure of how busy you are — not a measure of how much money you make.”

The 2011 dipnet fishery was open for 24 hours for most of the season, something that the city had to adjust to. Beach cleaning efforts had to take place during low tides or when there wasn’t as many people on the beach, Koch said.

“Sometimes we were effective, sometimes we weren’t,” he said. “It just mattered how many people were in the way.”

Koch has asked the state to help provide funds that would assist in creating “three fish cleaning/waste transfer and enforcement/data collection stations”, according to the Kenai City Council State Funding Priorities list. The proposed stations would be at north beach, south beach and the city boat launch. If the money does come from the state, Koch said the fees for the fishery might increase.

“I would propose that if we had the capital money for the fish cleaning stations, we would then increase the fees of the fishery,” Koch said.

The increased fees would help cover the contract valued at $100,000 to 150,000, for disposal of the fish waste, Koch said.

Koch said if an alternative was provided, anglers would no longer be able to leave fish remains on the beach.

“We would cite people for littering if they threw the fish into the river or deposited it along the shore,” he said.

The 24-hour opening also forced the city also to find a way to get dump trucks to the dumpsters and increase staff, among other obstacles.

“There wasn’t that much that wasn’t impacted by (Alaska Department of) Fish and Game’s decision to open (the personal use fishery) for 24 hours a day,” Koch said.

It is Fish and Game’s decision to open or close a fishery, the city does not have decision-making abilities, Koch said.

“We are absolutely reactionary to this fishery,” Koch said. “We do not have a seat at the table in the decision making process — although 100 percent of the fishery takes place on land owned by the city of Kenai.”

With the influx of fish to the river came a state-wide exodus, of sorts, of fishermen to Kenai.

As the personal fishery users would exit the parking lot, the shack attendant would ask them where they are from, Koch said. The results, Koch said, showed that 93 percent of the people who participated in the fishery are not from the Kenai Peninsula.

“It’s Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks — you name it,” he said. “Only seven out of 100 participants are from somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula.”

Of that 7 percent, Koch said, 3 percent of the users were from the city of Kenai.

The increase of people in addition with the 24-hour opening caused the Kenai Police Department and the four Seasonal Enforcement Officers to work over time and be stricter in their enforcement. There were 59 citations written during the fishery, compared to 6 in 2010. Of those 59 citations, most of those were parking violations, Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said. “Most of those are for people not displaying parking permits,” he said. “Which normally means they didn’t pay for parking.”

The massive amounts of people also made it difficult for setnetters to get to their sites. Sandahl said the path allowing vehicles to drive from South Spruce Drive on to the north beach was so congested that the setnetters needed a police escort to get to their sites.

“The city tries to designate this path every year for setnet vehicles so they don’t get stuck,” Sandahl said. “People were encroaching on that, the parking lot is not big enough.”

The police department and the Seasonal Enforcement Officers received 121 calls for service, according to the report. Of those 121, there were four for fights, three for disturbances caused by intoxication and two for public drunkenness. Sandahl cited the fact that there was “far more people in town than ever before.”

“When you have that many thousands of people down here, we know that people are drinking alcohol,” Sandahl said. “But we don’t typically get anyone’s alcohol consumption rising to the level of a public drunkeness call during the fishery, or to a point where it’s causing a problem.”

Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com.

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