The city of Kenai put its support behind a state bill looking to establish a fee for personal use dipnetting permits.
The Kenai River personal use fishery is one of most popular fisheries in the state, taking place at the mouth of the Kenai River inside the city of Kenai. Since 1996, the city has provided parking areas, launch ramp and docking facilities, restroom facilities, fish waste and garbage management, beach raking and cleanup, camping, law enforcement and emergency services for Alaskans who descend on the mouth of the Kenai every summer.
Council member Robert Peterkin sponsored the resolution. He said he feels the bill is important for the community.
“I don’t feel that the dipnetting operation should fall on the residents of the city of Kenai residents to support it,” Peterkin said at the March 4 city council meeting. “This is the first step in trying to get some help with the revenue on this.”
Council member Henry Knackstedt said at the meeting that the dipnet fishery has been an “unfunded mandate on the city of Kenai.”
Knackstedt said the city has a budget and a process to deal with the dipnet fishery, however, some years it costs more to run than it brings in.
“We went under almost $100,000, $90,000, two years ago. Every year it’s a bit of a crapshoot, you know? What’s the fishery going to do? My opinion in general has been the state should have been paying their share of the things we’ve had to do down there all along. I think it’s about time.”
Fish waste and damage to the local environment were “jeopardizing the health and safety” of dipnetters, prior to the city’s current management process, the resolution said.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Kenai/Soldotna, is sponsoring SB 232. In his sponsor statement, he said the bill is aiming to address the dipnetting impacts faced by communities in Cook Inlet.
“The beaches near the mouths of effected rivers are often treated as trash receptacles with sometimes little regard for the local communities,” Micciche said in his sponsor statement. “As an example, since nearly inception, the dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River has been a burden on the City of Kenai.”
While the influx of “dippers” brings in revenue to local businesses, the city of Kenai has also had to increase public safety and public works personnel with no financial assistance, Micciche’s sponsor statement said.
The bill would establish a $5 fee for the Cook Inlet personal use fishing permit, and would be collected and split between communities where personal use fisheries take place. The remainder would stay in the general fund for state-provided services and infrastructure, the sponsor statement said.
“In areas outside municipal boundaries, these funds could help cover additional costs for infrastructure, boat launches, restrooms, law enforcement and waste management,” the sponsor statement said.
Micciche said in his statement that the fee would help offset some of the burden created by the state’s dipnet fishery, while also providing opportunities to improve the dipnetting experience.
“Many might ask why a community should receive money when the resource (fish) belongs to all Alaskans,” Micciche said in his sponsor statement. “The answer is simple, when any community sees the influx of throngs of people that Kenai, for instance, sees during the short dipnet fishery season, the burden on city services is dramatically increased.”
Over the last three years, the city has streamlined its process and reduced the cost to take care of the fishery by more than $150,000, the resolution said.
“Even with the reduction in expenditures, due to unpredictable runs and in participation over the last four years, the fees collected to support the fishery are not sufficient to cover the costs that the City incurs,” the resolution said.
The state manages similar fisheries in the Upper Cook Inlet area, including the Kasilof River and Fish Creek.
Copies of the resolution will be sent to Gov. Mike Dunleavy; Sen. Micciche; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai/Soldotna; Rep. Ben Carpenter R-Nikiski; Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer.