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Anchorage waters hit by illegal Kenai salmon dumping

Craig Medred

The fallout from an explosion of sockeye salmon in the Kenai River has hit Alaska’s largest city, and officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are not happy. They say it’s slimy, stinky and unsightly.

We’re talking here, of course, about the sockeye carcasses and innards from the Kenai that have started showing up in Anchorage lakes, streams and neighborhoods as city residents by the thousands rush to the Kenai River to slaughter salmon in an unexpectedly large run of the fish.

The fish waste that some have been bringing back to Anchorage as a result, state officials say, is just messy; it’s a bear attractant.

And dumping it into public waters, or onto public or private lands violates both municipal and state laws. They say they are now on the look-out for anglers and dipnetters apparently can’t figure out how to clean their fish on the banks of the Kenai, and then toss the remains back into the river to fertilize the ecosystem. It would appear far too many are instead hauling their fish back to Anchorage, cleaning them at home, and then dumping the waste wherever they think they can get away with it.

Fish and Game has gotten "numerous reports of salmon waste dumped into Anchorage creeks, lakes and neighborhood areas,” according to spokesman Ken Marsh. "This illegal activity is a serious public safety concern. Fish waste can draw bears to an area from more than a mile away.”

"People may not realize they are putting other people in danger when they illegally dump fish or fish carcasses, but this is a serious public safety issue," added Jessy Coltrane, area biologist for the Division of Wildlife Conservation. "Fish carcasses attract bears, and bears may defend these food sources if people accidentally come near."

Her words are kinder and gentler than those of her predecessor, the now-retired biologist Rick Sinnott, who once threatened physical violence if he got his hands on someone dumping salmon waste. Biologists now say they merely plan to try to stick it to the perp in court. Fines could reach up to $1,000.

Not only wildlife biologists are unhappy about what’s been happening, either. Area fisheries biologist Dan Bosch noted dumping the carcasses of foreign salmon in local streams could spread diseases. Fish and Game is warning residents to take their waste directly to a waste transfer station or to the landfill, or freeze it "to eliminate odors and then place it out with garbage on the morning of trash pickup."

People who have salmon left off in their freezers from last year, and now want to replace that salmon with fresh salmon, can take well-packaged and unspoiled fish to Bean’s Café, which serves meals to the homeless. The café at 1101 E. 3rd Ave is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Year-old salmon doesn’t taste as good as fresh salmon, but it’s a fair sight better than a muddy largemouth bass.

Old salmon is also often accepted by The Alaska Zoo, The Bird Treatment and Learning Center, and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. They use it to feed the wild. If you’re interesting in making a donation, call the Zoo at 346-3243, the BTLC at 562-4852 or the Wildlife Conservation Center at 783-2025.

The Kenai sockeye run forecast at about 3.9 million fish now looks like it could be one and a half to nearly two times that size. The run has produced a bonanza for commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet, stuffed the nets of persona-use dipnetters, and filled the Kenai Peninsula stream with salmon for anglers.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com.