Kenai Fire responds to fewer boat accidents this dipnet season

The Kenai Fire Department hasn’t had to rescue as many swamped boats in the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery this year as last year.

So far, they’ve had one boat that had to be towed back to shore, said Kenai Fire Battalion Chief Tony Prior. The incident, reported Saturday, happened because the boat lost propulsion and drifted out into a set gillnet site with six people aboard. With the help of the Alaska State Troopers and Alaska State Parks rangers, the fire department was able to rescue the people and retrieve the boat. Because the setnetters were not fishing Saturday, no gear was involved, he said.

“The troopers got most of the people off the boat,” he said.

There was one other swamping the department heard about, but was not called to respond to, Prior said. Using the city’s boat, the fire department has been conducting regular patrols, as they have been doing since 2014 during the dipnet season for safety and to enforce the city’s no-wake zone near the river’s mouth.

At this time last year, the Kenai Fire Department had responded to three in the first two weeks of the dipnet, ultimately responding to four capsizings and two boat collisions. Many dipnetters fish from boats, some of which are small skiffs susceptible to swamping from the wake of other passing boats or large waves in that section of the river.

The Kenai River dipnet fishery has one more week to go before closing at 11 p.m. July 31. So far, fishing has been spotty, with sockeye runs slow and the total cumulative count less than half of what it was this time last year. Many people traveled to Kenai last weekend to try a hand at dipnetting for some sockeye, leading to additional traffic, both on the river and on the roads.

Prior said dipnetters should remember to check the City of Kenai’s Dipnet Kenai app for reminders about the tides and boat launch closures. The city, which launched the app this year, has been using it to send out notices about potential hazards and incidents on the beaches.

For Tuesday, no camping or parking will be allowed on both the north and south Kenai beaches because of an extreme high tide at 6:08 a.m., according to the app.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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