Friday, July 10, 2015

Dipping on the Kenai

See: Long-handled nets in hand, hordes of anglers prepare to storm Kenai beaches

[ed. Few people know that the personal use fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River was initially an experiement designed to protect upstream riverbank habitat from over-trampling (and provide a counterbalance to murky subsistence issues that were bubbling along in rural communities and political circles at the time). The thinking was: just move the teeming hordes down to the beaches where sand, instead of vegetation, would absorb the foot traffic that had been destroying sensitive streambanks and infuriating landowners up and down the river for years. Dippers could catch a ton of fish, enough to 'fill their freezers', and in so doing, decrease hook and line pressure throughout the system. Little consideration was given to what would actually happen at the mouth of the river once those regulations were passed (nor did anyone particularly care what the City of Kenai thought). Fragile beach dunes and adjacent wetlands were threatened by the onslaught of tens of thousands of new dipnetters. This was a problem, not only because of the sensitivity of these habitats, but their function in protecting nearby bluff properties from erosion. I had the opportunity to secure a grant that helped the City install concrete barriers along the entire access road to the beach, construct boardwalks, expand parking and turnaround areas, and develop signage, which, for the last couple decades, has worked out pretty well. The dunes and wetlands have been protected. But I remember appreciating the relative calm back then when maybe 20-30 people at most were out dipping and the salmon were just piling into the river (you could stand in a couple feet of water and get hit in the ankles). It would take a while for the new fishery to catch on, but it was clear it was going to be HUGE; and, like the Alaskan Permanent Fund, (and cessation of State taxes) would probably evolve into another 'untouchable' institution, never to be revoked once established. And so it goes. Now it's shoulder to shoulder combat dipping, fights, drunks, squatters, mountains of trash, and general overall insanity. I'm glad I got to enjoy it when it was a more peaceful pursuit.]