Chitina dipnetter fees rising to $25 this summer

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Dipnetters who want to take red salmon from the Copper River will have to dip deeper into their pockets this summer.

The fee for Chitina dipnetters will more than double, or rise from $10 to $25 as the outcome of a deal struck by the state Department of Fish and Game and the Chitina and Ahtna Native corporations.

A permit fee has been in use since 1992. It allows dipnetters to trespass on Native lands bordering much of the Copper River dipnet fishery.

''What we're trying to do is provide maximum legal access and minimize the potential for conflict,'' said Mac Minard, regional supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game's sportfish division in Fairbanks who negotiated the one-year contract.

Fish and Game will get $7 from each permit sold to handle the paperwork and to provide sanitation and trash collection services at several access points. The Chitina Native Corp. will receive $10 per permit and Ahtna will get $8 as compensation for allowing dipnetters to trespass on their property.

It's the first fee increase since the permit system was established in 1992 and dipnetter numbers have more than doubled over that period, officials said.

Fish and Game issued more than 10,000 Chitina dipnet permits last year and dipnetters caught almost 150,000 red- and king salmon.

Dipnetters won't need to buy a $15 sportfishing license for Chitina this year because the state Board of Fisheries in December designated the fishery as subsistence rather than personal use. That makes the fee equal to what it was last year for people who don't buy fishing licenses, Minard said.

Chitina Dipnetters Association President Stan Bloom gave the fee increase a lukewarm endorsement.

''We're not crazy about a $25 fee, but it's a lot easier to pay $25 than go down there and be hassled,'' Bloom told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''I don't think anybody wants to go to Chitina and get arrested for trespassing.''

It was the dipnetters' association that pushed for a permit fee to reduce conflicts at Chitina a decade ago. That came after Native corporations tried to establish a roadblock.

But Mark Hem, a longtime Chitina charter guide who drops dipnetters off at prime spots with a boat, disputes the state's claim that most of the land used by dipnetters is on Native land. Many of the areas used by dipnetters fall within the Copper River Railroad's public right-of-way and are below the ordinary high water mark, he said.

''Eighty percent of dipnetters that go to Chitina don't even touch Native land,'' Hem said, adding that he doesn't like the idea of the state brokering a deal with Native corporations to access lands he contends they have a legal right to cross.

Ahtna Inc. spokesman Joe Hart said Native corporations had no choice but to charge an access fee. The only other option was to enforce the state's trespassing law because dipnetters inevitably cross Native lands.

''We want our rights as landowners to be respected,'' Hart said. ''People go down and cut trees down on our property, build fire rings, make pullouts.

''We're trying to work out an agreement in good faith with the state and dipnetters and not take it to a legal stance.''

While dipnetters won't get any more fish out of the deal, they will get better trash and sanitation services. The new contract calls for Fish and Game to double garbage and human waste collection.

''Services needed to increase and now we're going to provide them,'' Minard said.

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