As revenues for the City of Kenai’s dipnet fishery approach the $500,000 mark, city employees reported positive and negative changes in the prosecution of a fishery that continues to grow in popularity.
The short, high volume sockeye run eased overtime hour pressure on city employees and new requirements for the disposal of fish waste, a new fee processing system and higher fees resulted in a cleaner, more efficiently prosecuted personal-use fishery that generated higher fee revenue for the city.
However, increased four-wheeler traffic, confusion over the new fee structure and a high volume of boats in the mouth of the river left the city searching for logistical solutions in the increasingly popular fishery.
The city has proposed to leave the fee structure in place but proposed clarifications to regulations that will be discussed by the Kenai City Council during a Jan. 6, 2014 work session on the report.
While the city budgeted for revenues and expenditures of $483,152, the actual revenues and expenditures came in at about $40,000 less according to the preliminary dipnet report. Non-grant revenues increased by $78,000, or more than 20 percent of the previous year primarily as the result of the city’s increase in fees.
A change in the method for city departments to report their dipnet related expenditures allowed finance director Terry Eubanks to account for this year’s expenditures much more efficiently than in previous years, he said in an interview prior to the release of the draft report.
More than $109,000 of personal-use fishery funds were used to pay salaries and benefits, significantly less than the $188,978 for which the city originally budgeted, according to the report.
One issue city administration hopes to address, said City Manager Rick Koch, was a 2013 change in the Alaska Court System’s interpretation of code which requires the city to deliver citations in-person.
“If somebody is parked in a no-parking area our cops can’t give them a ticket unless they stand there and hand it to them,” Koch said.
It’s something he hopes will be addressed during the upcoming legislative session, however if it isn’t the city administration recommends a change in city code to allow for an internal process — including a city appointed “hearing officer” to eliminate the city’s need to use the Alaska Court System to process certain types of citations.
Koch said he would recommend to city council that the change be made before the 2014 dipnet season.
Another growing issue with the fishery, Koch said, is the increasing number of boats that congregate near the mouth of the river and out into the inlet.
“I think people have really got their arms around, the way to do this is out of a boat,” Koch said. “It’s much more efficient to do it in a boat than it is to stand out there in water up to your armpits.”
But, the increasing boat traffic, both from the city docks and launches farther upstream is causing a dangerous situation at the mouth of the river, Koch said.
“There were so many boats and people not driving their boats in a safe manner and there was more than one boat that sunk down there this year,” Koch said. “They managed to save themselves and we didn’t have involvement other than hearing about it.”
The city made some effort during the season to determine who had authority to regulate the area.
“The Coast Guard said ‘not us’ which I can’t believe, because if you’re on water — based on my knowledge — the Coast Guard has authority,” Koch said.
According to the Coast Guard’s 2012 operations manual and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it does hold jurisdiction over the entire Cook Inlet and at least a portion of the Kenai River.
Still, in the absence of any agency volunteering to regulate the increasingly congested boat situation, Koch said the city attorney was researching authorities and responsibilities.
“Who has authority? Does public safety? The troopers? Does the city because we own the underlying land under the river, does that mean that we have authority and that’s inside the city limits? So we’re going to figure that out for next year,” Koch said.
A three-night closure of city access points to the fishery in 2013 was also addressed in the report after city employees had to monitor the safety of overnight campers due to high tides during the season.
Going forward, city administration may choose to close public access to the fishery to allow heavy equipment onto the beach to remove fish waste in both the Dumpsters and along the shore, according to the report.
Koch said the distinction between access to the fishery and a fishery closure was an important one.
“We could not close the fishery. We don’t have the authority to close the fishery,” he said. “We would close access to the beach. Boats could be out there. There are other parts of the bank that people could be on ... the places that we would close it would be for the safety of the public so we could operate heavy equipment and rake the beach and empty the garbage and service the toilets and it would just be our property. We own the beach.”