Authorities issue fewer citations this dipnet season

The combined efforts of Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Alaska Department of Fish and Game personnel resulted in fewer citations being handed out during this year’s personal-use fishing seasons.

Wildlife troopers and Fish and Game compile fishing citations for both the Kasilof and Kenai river personal-use dipnet seasons and combine them in their report. The Kasilof River personal-use salmon dipnet season runs from June 25 through August 7, while the Kenai River open season runs July 10-31.

From June 15 through July 31 this year, wildlife troopers and Fish and Game personnel handed out a combined total of 279 citations, compared to the 561 citations issued during the same period last year. These totals are a combination of personal-use, commercial and sport fishing citations, as well as boating violations.

The departments keep track of violations other than those related to the personal-use fisheries because they also tend to rise each year with the dipnet season, said Lt. Paul McConnell, the deputy commander at the Soldotna post for the Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

“When the dipnet fishery peaks, so does the commercial fishing,” McConnell said. “Everything’s hot and heavy at that point.”

In 2014, 16 boating violations, 56 commercial fishing violations, and 93 sport fishing violations were issued. This year, authorities gave out six boating safety citations, 15 commercial fishing citations, and 183 sport fishing citations.

Only 75 personal-use citations were handed out this year, compared to 396 during last year’s dipnet seasons. Personal-use citations are given out for minor violations, similar to getting a speeding ticket, McConnell said. Personal-use violations include neglecting to mark a fish once it’s caught or failing to record one’s catch.

McConnell attributed the lower numbers to fewer personnel on the ground, as well as better behavior on the part of dipnet and other participants.

“To me, it seemed like we had less people violating,” McConnell said. “It could have been the result of the enforcement effort last year, and people knew better this year.”

Usually, six state troopers are assigned to the Soldotna post, McConnell said, and troopers saw additional funding in 2014 that allowed them to bring in extra manpower from around the state. This year, the combination of that funding no longer being available and a Soldotna post at half of its normal staffing levels resulted in fewer officers to man the beaches and hand out citations, McConnell said. Lack of resources also factors into the citations given out by Fish and Game, said Robert Begich, an area management biologist for the department.

“We would do more if we had a larger staff of course,” Begich said.

Fish and Game personnel patrol the Kenai and Kasilof river dipnet seasons “opportunistically,” Begich said, and split their time between the dipnet fisheries and their other duties.

Since the Soldotna trooper post has only three troopers on hand, McConnell said his department would have been lucky if there was one trooper on the ground covering the fisheries at any given time.

That trooper could have been called away from the beaches at any time to handle another incident, fishing-related or otherwise.

“That one trooper still has to cover the commercial fishery issues, (and) they still have to cover the sport fishery issues,” McConnell said.

The fish people seek out during the dipnet seasons also affect the number of citations given out year to year, said Begich. With more fish come more dipnet participants, and more participants generally leads to more citations, he said.

“There’s always good days and slower days,” he said. “The big difference, at least the last two years, is that generally at the Kenai we get tremendous pulses of sockeye that hit the river in excess of 100,000 fish per day perhaps. That has a lot to do with the orderliness of the fishery.”

The last few dipnet seasons have not seen such overwhelming sockeye pulses, and more stable numbers of fish hitting the river results in a more stable fishery altogether, Begich said.

Begich said recent modifications to the way people can report their catches should make a difference in the way the dipnet fisheries operate.

Participants can now report their catches online, even if they received a paper permit, he said. Dipnet participants should get used to reporting their catches online, since that is the general direction the entire program is moving in, Begich said.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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