While many look forward to the personal-use fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River, some who live in the area dread the annual occurrence due to the damage done to the environment and the debris that will be left behind.
“Every year it gets worse and worse,” said Cohoe Loop resident Cindy Colton.
Colton has lived in the coastal community since 1993, and said the personal-use set gillnet fishery that runs from June 15-24 and the dipnet fishery that follows from June 25-Aug. 7 always leave messes behind.
“When they leave, they leave all their trash behind. There will be whole couches and furniture, bags full of garbage, and tons and tons of beer bottles,” she said.
Colton said her biggest complaint is the human feces that gets left behind from people dumping honey buckets in the dune grass and constructing makeshift privies right on the beach.
“In just a short walk you can count half a dozen outhouses, and that feces ends up going right in to the river or inlet. Why do I have to pay to have my septic pumped, but it’s OK for them to run human waste right into the water,” she said.
The problem of human waste has not gone unnoticed by official entities, and through a joint effort by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sportfish Division and the Kenai Peninsula Borough several portable outhouses and trash receptacles have been provided on the north and south sides of the river.
“That’s just for this year. A permanent land-use solution on a larger scale needs to be found,” said Robert Begich with Fish and Game.
Colton said these amenities aren’t being completely utilized.
“They’ve got port-a-potties at the end of the beach road, but people down the beach and at the mouth of the river are too lazy to walk to them,” she said.
Toby Burke of Kasilof hasn’t lived in the area as long as Colton, but said he has seen the situation worsen with people driving trucks and four-wheelers through the grass-covered dunes to get to the river mouth.
“I’ve only been here two years and I can already see the degradation to the dunes from motorized recreation,” he said.
Burke is a wildlife technician at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge who enjoys bird watching on the “flats” estuary area of the Kasilof River when not at work. While not speaking as a refuge employee, he said the biologist in him can’t help but notice the ongoing ecological damage to the area.
“On the north side of the river where I like to go birding there were only two entryways into the dunes two years ago. Now there are six. The dunes are tattered ribbons of what they should be,” he said.
Burke said this is a concern because these dunes help hold the mouth of the river in place and prevent saltwater flooding of lowland areas, but traveling on the dunes can break up the grass roots that hold them together.
“As they break down, you’ll see more storm surges washing back and harming the estuary habitat that is outstandingly productive for feeding and rearing wildlife. These areas are nurseries for fish and shellfish, and they’re productive areas for shorebirds and waterfowl,” he said.
Marvin Mattson of Kasilof said people encroaching on the dunes is a result of the lack of parking and camping areas provided to personal-use fishermen.
“They’re begin forced to go somewhere they shouldn’t be,” he said.
Mattson said a solution would be to expand the facilities, especially with a place for fishermen to park, but was quick to add that parking isn’t the only problem. He said confining fishermen to an area of just a few miles in either direction of the river mouth, rather than letting people fish up and down the coast, is adding to the dilemma.
“It’s like going to Disneyland and everyone trying to get on the same ride. It’s not a good situation,” he said.
Colton said she’s called several agencies, including the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority the two biggest landowners in the area utilized by fishermen, but her concerns were not addressed.
“They all just pass the buck,” she said.
Calls to both of agencies were not immediately returned to the Peninsula Clarion.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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