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Beaches close nightly as fishery goes 24/7

Posted: July 22, 2013 - 9:27pm

A few years ago, during a 25-foot tide, a dipnet fisherman was found passed out, wet and hypothermic in his waterlogged tent on the beach near the mouth of the Kenai River.

With big tides again on the way and sure to push high up on the beach, the city of Kenai decided to close the north and south beaches to camping and parking. Both beaches are expected to be completely under water for some portion of the tide cycle.

“We’ve had these issues before, but have not been as proactive,” Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said.

High tides during the early hours of the next few days are predicted reach or exceed 24 feet, among the highest tides of the year. Koch said he’s hoping to escape a southwest wind that could push the tide up a couple of extra feet.

Over the weekend, city employees handed out flyers explaining the three-night closure and offered relocation details to dipnet fisherman for the peak high-tide period, which is expected to run through Thursday.

For the last several nights, city employees have had to wake sleeping dipnetters to warn them that water is lapping near their tent doors, Koch said.

Though inconvenient, the extreme tides come at a good time for the least amount of dipnet disruption. Fishing has slowed some and the index is low.

With estimates of 20,000 people crowding the north and south beaches over the weekend, Koch said only about 6,000 remained fishing by midday Monday.

To honor the parking and camping permits issues by the city, its Little League fields, located on Spruce Street, opened to tent campers. The softball fields on Main Street Loop opened to campers and general parking.

Campers evacuating from the south beach tides will have the longest drive to the temporary camping sites ­— about 10 miles.

“There is a good chance the access to the main camping and parking area (on the south beach) will be lost during an extreme high tide, resulting in no escape route from the area,” Koch said.

Adding to the city’s beach-management concerns, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Monday afternoon announced the fishery would be open 24 hours a day beginning at 11 p.m. Monday and runs through the end of the month.

According to a press release by fish and game, estimates peg the Kenai River late sockeye run will exceed 2.3 million fish.

The camping and parking closures, which are in place, could be joined by complete or partial beach closures for city maintenance, Koch said.

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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