FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A state transportation survey could mean that dipnetters won't pay to scoop salmon out of the Copper River this summer at Chitina.
The survey showed that at least 60 percent of the land along the road between O'Brien and Haley creeks is public land. Now, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is reconsidering the $25 fee dipnetters paid last year.
The DOT survey shows that about 3.2 miles of the 5-mile road between O'Brien and Haley Creeks is within the state right of way.
''It's pretty evident the existing right of way overlaps the river for a significant portion of the road from O'Brien Creek to Haley Creek,'' said Mac Minard, regional management supervisor for the Division of Sport Fish in Fairbanks. ''That's a big issue.''
There has been a long-standing dispute over right of way access to dipnetting spots at Chitina since the early 1980s.
The Copper River Railroad Right of way provides the only land access to the popular dipnet fishery at Chitina, which attracts thousands of dipnetters each year who climb down cliffs to fish salmon out of the Copper River.
While Native corporations have long claimed the state has no right-of-way access, the Alaska Superior Court ruled in 1992 that the railroad was in fact a 300-foot right of way and open to public use.
However, without a legal survey to determine exactly where the right of way was, the state for the last 10 years has fostered an agreement with the two Native groups to allow public access for dipnetters, at a price.
The majority of the fee -- $18 of the $25 -- served as a trespass fee paid to the two Native corporations. The remainder of the fee went to garbage collection and sanitation contractors (
Last year the state issued approximately 9,400 Chitina dipnet permits, resulting in almost $170,000 for the two Native corporations.
''The arrangement served an important role by allowing access to the fishery in return for compensation to the Native corporations during a period of uncertainty,'' Minard said. ''We're basically reconsidering our role as a collection agent for private corporations.
It will be up to the Legislature to determine whether to repeal the fee, Minard said. Only the Legislature can institute or repeal permit fees for fishing or hunting.
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