While this summer’s dipnetters fish in the mouth of the Kenai River, the city of Kenai will be fishing for them with a new smartphone app that provides up-to-date information not only about the fishery, but about other Kenai activities and businesses.
The app — presently available for download in the Apple app store and Google Play under the name “Dipnet Kenai” — includes on its main screen a Kenai weather forecast, tide table, daily fish count, and indicators of when Kenai’s boat launch and north and south beaches are open to dipnetting. Other features include a fee calculator, information pages on dipnet-related subjects, and live streams from 14 cameras looking over Kenai’s beaches, parking lots, and boat launches.
Since its creation in 1996, the personal-use dipnet fishery has been viewed as an economic opportunity by some Kenai residents and a messy nuisance by others. Though dipnetting crowds are a management challenge for the city officials in charge of safety, clean-up, and controlling access to the beach and municipal boat launch, they also represent potential tourist dollars for local businesses. Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said that while Kenai generally sees a summer increase in sales tax revenue, it’s hard to quantify how much of this business comes with the fishery — or how much potential business from the fishery remains unrealized. According to an old joke, dipnetters come to Kenai with the clothes on their backs and a $20 bill in their pockets — and leave town without changing either.
“I think there’s a lot of potential we haven’t been tapping,” Ostrander said. “Exactly how we tap into that, I don’t have the answer, but I think things like the dipnet app can help. I think there are things we can do to encourage folks to turn their 36 hour dipnet trip into something more than that by partaking in activities in the city.”
To that end, the app includes a “what’s happening” section, which as of Friday has only one posting — about the Kenai Chamber of Commerce’s Saturday Market — but Ostrander said will later be populated with other events hosted by local businesses and groups. In addition to dip netting locations, the app’s map will include city buildings and services.
Drawing dipnetters from the beach into town is also the purpose of the advertisements that appear within the app, Castimore said.
“The city’s goal with the advertising isn’t to make money,” Castimore said. “It’s to encourage people to use businesses in town. This idea of embracing our fishery includes driving more business into town. Not everybody knows the city has a movie theatre. Not everybody knows you can go up the street to Donalson’s for all your fishing gear. Not everybody knows that Three Bears has dipnets. So what we’re really trying to do with the adds is say ‘we want you to spend money in Kenai, rather than stopping at Fred Meyer on the way and getting everything you need there and never spending any money in town.’”
Advertisements in the app cost $250, and the only Kenai business to have bought one so far is the Medicenter medical office. The city originally allowed members of the Kenai Central High School soccer team to solicit advertisers as a fundraiser, giving the team the advertising profits, but the school year ended without much fundraising activity, Ostrander said. In an upcoming meeting, he plans to solicit advertisements from Kenai Chamber of Commerce members.
“If we start implementing that effort, we’ll figure out where those proceeds go,” Ostrander said. “Likely it would go back into the (personal use) fishery fund to off-set costs of the app.”
Castimore said developing the app — which he’d done along with a hired programer, Marvin Fredrickson — has so far cost less than $5,000 from the city fund dedicated to managing the dipnet fishery. Installing the cameras and their support systems took an additional $11,000, also from Kenai’s personal use fishery fund.
Castimore said the app doesn’t collect information from its users beyond what they voluntarily enter, though the city will record how many times the app is downloaded and how much it is used. As of Friday, Castimore said the app had been downloaded 30 times, mostly by Kenai city employees. When the fishery begins, he said Kenai will advertise the app with signs that include a QR code giving a download link.
Ostrander hopes the app will help city officials disseminate information. An informed participant, he said, “is a much happier one than one that’s getting surprised by things they’re not expecting.”
“From a public safety perspective, we’re going to be able to provide push notifications from our public safety department, our police department, our fire department, basically any city administration that can provide information — if there’s a child that’s lost, or updates of when the launch is going to close, or if they need to be off the beach by a certain time because there’s an extremely high tide coming,” Ostrander said. “… There’s a lot of information we could provide through this app that’s otherwise extremely difficult for us to get out there.”
Castimore said this communication is meant to go both ways. The app includes a feedback form.
“Let’s say you use one of the restrooms, and the conditions are deplorable — you can go to the app and fill in some information, and even include a picture if you want to, and we’ll use that in the future to make things better,” Castimore said. “…Right now, there’s not much communication that’s possible, because we only see people for one to two minutes when they come to the fee shack, pay for the services, then go away. So typically any other interaction we have with them is negative — if we have to write them a ticket or tow their vehicle. There’s not a lot of opportunity for positive communication, and that’s what this will allow.”
The app will offer live feeds from 14 cameras looking over Kenai’s beaches, boat launch, fee shacks, and lines of waiting vehicles. Ostrander said these will allow dipnetters “to look at the launch to see if it’s busy, it’s going to allow them to look right at the fishery to see how busy it is, whether or not fish are being caught, they can look at the queue of vehicles on the boat launch road or the south beach access.”
Six of the cameras are newly installed this year, Castimore said, while the others previously sent feeds to city hall for administrators to monitor the fishery. Some of the cameras, Castimore said, previously posted still images to Kenai’s website, but none have been public live feeds before.
Ostrander, who took up the city manager’s position in January, has said in past reports to the Kenai city council that he wants the city to make more of the fishery.
“We want to embrace the fishery more than we have in the past,” Ostrander said. “The app is designed to give the users a better experience, but it’s also designed to let those folks know what we have in Kenai that they want to check out while they’re here.”