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Hoard of dipnetters at Kenai River mouth this summer shattered records

Mike Campbell

The rush of net-bearing Alaska anglers to the mouth of the Kenai River was huge his summer, according to the 2011 Dipnet Report released by the city of Kenai.

Dipnetters converged at the mouth of the Kenai River July 10-31.  The city estimated  some 19,994 dipnetters participated, up 13 percent from a year ago.  That’s the most ever, although Kenai officials noted, “This is a very simple estimate and does not represent actual participant counts.”

“I can’t recall a time that I have traveled to Anchorage (mid-July) and experienced as much traffic flowing south.” Kenai Parks & Recreation Director Robert Frates wrote in a memo to police chief Gus Sandahl.

Fueling the crowd was a record return of red salmon. A monster surge 230,643 reds passed the Fish and Game sonar 19 miles up the Kenai River on a single day, July 17.  In response, officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hiked their estimate of the expected return and opened the fishery 24 hours a day.

In the end, 1.6 million reds avoided personal-use dipnetters, commercial nets, subistence users and anglers to swim up the Kenai enroute to their spawning grounds. That’s up 24 percent from 2010.

Alaskans noticed.    

“What used to be a casual one- or two-day trip to the Kenai beaches has grown into well organized, orchestrated ‘staycations,’ Frates wrote.  “Although we still see a sharp incline in participation throughout the weekends, many participants appear to be converging onto the beaches throughout the weekdays, possibly hopeful of avoiding crowds.”

The increasing number of fish and dipnetters means increasing expenses as well as revenues for the city of Kenai. Frates notes that the hours of labor needed to enforce the law, attend to parkers, remove garbage and waste has skyrocketed more than 800 percent since 1998.  This summer, 2,055 hours of labor were needed to run the fishery.

Among the other numbers:

• $320,634 in city revenue largely from parking and dock fees, up 12 percent from last year.  Revenues topped expenses by $18,371.

•  Cost of disposing of fish waste was $100,000 to $150,000.

• Some 93 percent of the dipnetters came from outside the Kenai Peninsula. Only 3 percent came from the city of Kenai, where the dipnetting takes place.

• Fifty-nine citations were written, far exceeding the six in 2010. Most were parking violations.

• Some 121 police calls came in, including four for fights, and five related to alcohol abuse.

“The number of calls related to disorderly conduct, harassment, assault, or disturbance more than tripled from 2010,” according to police chief Sandahl.