Joys and pains: Kenai council discusses annual dipnet fishery

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kenai's love-hate relationship with the annual personal-use dipnet fishery dominated discussion at the city council work session Tuesday.

City Manager Rick Koch and Finance Director Terry Eubank talked about the money and work involved in Kenai's side of the fishery.

Last year, when thousands of people flocked to Kenai for their allotment of household use salmon, the city took in nearly $444,000 and spent nearly $341,000 on law enforcement, improvement projects and other efforts.

The fishery usually pencils out to be financially worthwhile, but if it closes early or something goes wrong, the city could loose out, Eubank said.

"The city is at a significant risk," he said.

Koch also talked about some other difficulties, including a period last summer when the fishery was open 24 hours, which made clean-up more difficult.

"It resulted in there being more fish waste collecting on the beach," he said.

Besides the report from Koch and Eubank, the meeting was a chance for the public and the council to talk about their views on the fishery.

Vincent Goddard, of Inlet Fisheries, was largely concerned with enforcement during the fishery, and had ideas on how the city might work with the state on enforcement, or at least push the state to do more.

"It's my firm belief that there's way more fish being caught than are reported," he said.

Goddard also wanted the city to consider how the fish are handled after being caught.

"There is a considerable amount of fish being shipped out of the state," he said.

According to Goddard, that's illegal -- and it is illegal for the shipping company (often FedEx, he said) to transport it under the Lacey Act. He asked the city to work on educating people and businesses about what is allowed.

Mayor Pat Porter said that the city isn't in a position to do very much enforcement, but that she had spoken with the governor last week and that the city will continue to ask the state for enforcement.

Bob Peters also had suggestions for Kenai on how it could help make the fishery run more smoothly.

Peters said an ordinance about fish waste and cleaning might make it easier to enforce when people leave fish guts lying around. He also suggested that the city work toward not making a profit by spending any money they take in on the fishery.

Not everyone wanted to talk about what more the city could be doing.

Brenda Crim asked how her volunteers could do more for the community during the dipnetting season.

Crim organizes hundreds of volunteers to come to Kenai and help with picking up trash, running a day camp on the beach, monitoring traffic near the beach and other projects to ensure the fishery runs smoothly.

This summer, Crim said she'll have 450 volunteers in town for all three weekends the fishery is open.

"We love Kenai," she said. "Our whole goal is to leave goodness, a path of goodness."

Koch and Crim planned to meet at a later date to talk about additional projects, including the possibility of the volunteers doing some trail work.

Rik Bucy, another local businessman, also had a positive take on the fishery and its economic impacts.

Bucy said he had seen the numbers, and businesses like Fred Meyer and Tesoro have significant jumps in sales during the dipnetting opening each summer. He commended the city for its work making the fishery run smoothly.

"I think you've done a great job," he said.

Council members also weighed in on what they thought needs more work.

Brian Gabriel brought up two issues he sees regularly.

"I look out my window and I see people urinating constantly," he said.

He also said that the number of people using the lots in the VIP subdivision to host a group of family and friends is increasing.

City Attorney Krista Stearns said that such camping requires the owner's permission, and the owner must provide sanitation facilities.

Porter said that trash was also an issue, and she had recently learned that people are burying and burning their trash on the beach.

"The garbage pretty much gets out of control," she said.

Council members and administration talked about possible solutions, including signage and enforcement. Stearns found ordinances relating to most of the complaints.

Terry Bookey said he appreciated the work last summer, and thought the city was going in the right direction.

"We have this fishery," he said. "It's here. I don't think it's going away."

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.



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