Each year, there is a direct proportion of migrating fish to people on the Kenai River, and the people migration is approaching its peak as the second sockeye run comes into the river.
Tuesday was opening day for personal-use dipnetting at the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Soon, the beach at the end of Spruce Street in Kenai will be inundated with people, kids in tow, long-handled nets and fish-ready coolers. Parking will be first-come, first-served at $5 a space for 24 hours.
The boat dock at Kenai Harbor will see a line of trailered boats patiently awaiting launch. Across the mouth of the river, on the Cannery Road side, the south beach will see parked cars in a no-fee area and dippers lining the water.
"Opening is not a problem," said Lt. Jeff Kohler of the Kenai Police Department. "It is the second and third week when things get hectic and jammed."
However, Kohler said, the fishery has gotten better over the years.
"It used to be less organized."
Kohler credits fishers for the improvements.
Each year the Kenai police find another problem to solve, but the police welcome the cooperation of the public, he said.
The most labor-intensive place for the police is the turnaround at the north end of Spruce Street where people dipnet from shore, Kohler said. The place is well signed, but invariably someone will drive a motor home north to the end of the road and find they can't turn around. The area has to be kept clear for emergencies. When it gets crowded, police staff the Spruce Street area full time.
Kohler said officers will be issuing tickets and impounding vehicles if someone is out of compliance.
During the dipnet season, Kenai police hire a commissioned police officer to specifically target dipnetting, and a seasonal officer position also is assigned.
It is legal to drive north on the beach from the Spruce Street area but not to drive south to the mouth of the river, Kohler said.
"You can go all the way to Nikiski driving north," he said.
The goal is to protect the vegetation and the grass in the dunes.
"(We need) to keep dune erosion to a minimum, and keep ATVs and fires out of this area," he said.
Fires are OK below the tide line.
On the south side of the river, at the end of Cannery Road, the area is less regulated, for now. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended, Kohler said. As the season progresses, the beach gets to be pretty rugged.
Over the years, there have been a few vehicles buried by incoming tides, Kohler said, and every once in a while one of these vehicles emerges up through the sand.
Human waste also is a problem on the Cannery Road beach. Installation and service of portable toilets on the south beach would be expensive. Kenai Public Works Director Keith Kornelis said the city is investigating ways to mitigate the problem.
Visitors in the future may face a user fee on the south beach, Kohler said.
Trash is the other problem, he said, and dipnetter should leave the place clean.
"If your mother would say no, it is probably something you should not do," he said.
Camping is not allowed on either the south or north beach, and private property must be respected. That is something that has improved over the years, Kohler said.
The boat dock requires patience and being staged to launch. The floating dock can only accommodate a limited number of boats.
The city suggests not tying a boat to the dock unless it is being operated alone. If more than one person is with the boat, one can take charge of the trailer while the other ties to a city buoy in the river or motors around. When pulling out, the same rules apply.
The problem gets especially sticky when the tide is low. The floating dock gets shorter, and less boats are able to tie up. If there is a long line of cars waiting to use the dock, a boat tied up on the floating docks becomes an obstacle, Kornelis said. No one can get in our out.
Life jackets should be worn by everyone, those in boats and on the shore. Parents need to keep an eye on their kids. Fish waste needs to be kept off the beach and disposed of in the water, said Kohler, citing increased bear trouble this time of year.
"People need to be scrupulous about fish waste," he said, adding that cleaning fish and cutting tails on the docks is illegal.
To participate in the fishery, a resident fishing license and dipnet permit are required. Once in possession, the tail fin must be clipped on each side, and the number of species caught must be logged on the user's permit.
Other regulations are listed in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sportfishing regulation pamphlet, available wherever fishing licenses are sold.
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