Public comment earlier this week on the city of Kenai’s personal-use dipnet fishery report hit on some familiar refrains — mainly, area residents frustrated with the frenzy that descends on the city from July 10-31 every year, and the hassles that come with it.
Pressure on the dipnet fishery isn’t likely to decrease any time soon. It simply has become too popular with Alaskans over the past decade, and allowing harvest opportunity for residents is and ought to be a high priority for fishery managers. Crowds are drawn to an accessible, generally productive fishing opportunity. The annual fishery has taken on a culture of its own as people come from far and wide to participate.
Those crowds, numbering in the thousands, come with challenges. To this point, the city of Kenai has shouldered the bulk of the load when it comes to managing the crowds. In some ways, the city has become a victim of its own success. Kenai continues to make improvements to management of the fishery, from dune protection to better parking to new equipment to rake fish carcasses. Those improvements only seem to make the fishery more and more popular.
But there’s one idea spawned from Monday’s Kenai City Council work session that ought to be pursued, and even expanded upon. The Clarion reported that Dwight Kramer, a local fishing advocate, suggested the city establish a dipnet committee to explore the issue. Councilman Bob Molloy agreed, and suggested other agencies be included.
Whether it’s called a task force, special committee or advisory board, establishing an interagency working group to address concerns about the growing fishery is an excellent idea, one we’d like to see implemented as soon as possible. It should include representatives of all the fishery stakeholders, from Kenai city administration, to Fish and Game, Wildlife Troopers, Department of Natural Resources, the Coast Guard — every agency that has a share of responsibility for any aspects of the fishery.
The working group should also include representation from dipnetters, and from Kenai residents, too — those two stakeholders will be most impacted by changes made to the fishery.
Such a working group is not without precedent. The Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board includes just such a mix of representatives, and an interagency effort is under way to address human-bear conflicts around the Russian River.
While the city of Kenai continues to make improvements in managing the dipnet fishery, the fishery itself continues to grow in popularity. Conflicts and challenges with the fishery are going to continue to grow, too. Now is an ideal time to establish a panel to address issues and look for new solutions.