Kenai reviews 2017 dipnet

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the number of dipnet transactions in 2013.

When the Kenai city council took its annual look back at the 2017 personal use fishery at their Dec. 6 meeting, Kenai city manager Paul Ostrander brought forward two proposed changes: this year Kenai will discontinue the city council’s traditional public work sessions about fishery issues and may begin spending fishery revenue on things other than fishery expenses.

The fees Kenai collects from dipnetters at parking spots and at the city boat launch go into a dedicated fund for fishery expenses, meant to make the city’s fishery activity self-sustaining and separate from Kenai’s taxpayer-funded general fund. The city also maintains a balance in the fishery fund to avoid taking losses if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closes the fishery early, ending the city’s opportunity to recover its expenditures.

The Kenai Finance Department projects the fishery fund will finish the fiscal year with what Ostrander called a “significant” balance of $274,651.

“I think administration feels now that the fund balance is sufficient to provide the protections that it’s needed for… and this will allow future revenues generated from the fishery to support either general fund capital projects or operations,” Ostrander said.

Ostrander said he planned to include non-fishery appropriations from the fishery fund in the city administration’s budget proposals for fiscal year 2019, which will start June 1, 2018.

The swarm of dipnetters on Kenai beaches in July has usually been followed by another annual tradition in December or January: a council discussion about parking, policing, waste disposal, and other city services related to the fishery, as well as the fees that pay for them. Ostrander told council members he had no plans for such a session this year.

“Certainly as we progress to the spring, as we prepare for dipnet season, if we think it’s appropriate to have some opportunity for the public to provide additional information through a work session or just through some type of information collecting effort we can do that,” Ostrander said.

In response to a question from council member James Glendenning about public feedback from the fishery, Ostrander said comments fishery users had submitted through the city’s new dipnet-focused smartphone app had been “probably the greatest source of feedback we’ve received.”

Dipnetters submitted 80 comments, questions, compliments, and complaints through the app’s feedback form over the course of the fishery.

The number of dipnetters this year — as approximated by the number of transactions that Kenai’s fee collectors recorded at fishery access points — was the lowest since 2013, when 17,000 transactions were recorded. 2017’s total is 20,068 — 10 percent fewer transactions than in 2016. Following proportions that have held steady for many years, about half the dipnetters were from Anchorage. About 18 percent percent were from the Kenai Peninsula, with seven percent from the city of Kenai and 6 percent from Soldotna.

Dipnet-related citations that the Kenai Police Department gave out in 2017 increased greatly from 2016’s 133. The 228 citations that the city’s temporary enforcement officers gave this year were “primarily for paid parking and other parking related violations,” according to Kenai Police Chief Dave Ross’ report to the council.

“The only thing I can really attribute that jump to is probably that our summer hires had more time,” Ross said. “The fishery was spread out a little more, they weren’t as hammered with the busy weekends as before, so they had a little more time to look for parking violations.”

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com

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