The personal use salmon dipnetting open season begins Friday which means the Kenai beaches will be swarming with fishermen from around the state.
To combat potential safety hazards, the Kenai Police Department and other authorities are taking several precautions.
Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said the department’s main concern during the dipnet season is traffic congestion.
“When dipnet participants are unable to launch their boats due to low tides, we have a standstill on launching the boats for up to four hours,” Sandahl said. “When that occurs on the peak days, especially in the middle of the dipnet fishery, we get a large buildup of vehicles that can overflow onto Bridge Access Road.”
Sandahl said the department places a police officer on the scene to direct traffic during low tides and posts signs prohibiting drivers from making left turns across backed up traffic.
“We know historically our peak weekend would be July 17 and 18,” Sandahl said. “It’s not that date every year, but it’s not this first weekend, it’s the second weekend. We staff officers for overtime specifically to handle … dipnetting.”
Lt. David Ross said the department hires Temporary Enforcement Officers each summer to aid with increased traffic and activity. This year, the department made six summer hires.
“They’re primarily used for the dipnet fishing,” Ross said. “They’re hired before the dipnet (season) so we can get them trained.”
Ross said Temporary Enforcement Officers are not armed, and therefore would need backup from the Kenai Police Department to handle a serious incident.
In the case of a fire on the beaches, Ross said police work closely with the Kenai Fire Department to determine how to respond.
“It depends on what the complaint is and who calls it in,” said Kenai Fire Chief Jeff Tucker in a previous interview with the Peninsula Clarion. “Obviously if it’s a fire, we’ll respond to it.”
While the burn ban has been lifted for the Kenai Peninsula, a burn suspension is still in place.
On the Kenai North Beach, fires are prohibited north of South Forest Drive, Sandahl said. On the South Beach, fires are prohibited north of Old Cannery Road to the section of beach even with the north point of the Kenai Landing Cannery.
Tucker said that under the burn suspension, campfires are permitted, but bonfires are not. He said campfires are considered to be 3 feet by 3 feet, or smaller. When putting out campfires, Tucker said beach-goers need to be thorough, or risk starting a larger fire.
“The campfire needs to be cool to the touch,” Tucker said. “It’s still extremely dry out there.”
Sandahl said citations can be given out for campfires in addition to other violations. He said dipnet participants have been historically good about complying with rules regarding campfires.
“It hasn’t been a problem in the past,” Sandahl said. “Anyone who had a fire… didn’t realize they were in a prohibited area.”
Sandahl said the most common citations given out during dipnet season are those for parking permit violations. Last year, he said the department received 150 calls for service in relation to the dipnet fishery. In total, 132 citations were given out, all for parking-related violations.
Littering can earn a person a $500 fine, Sandahl said. While there were no witnessed accounts of littering last year, he said garbage still ends up on the beaches.
At a July 1 meeting, the Kenai City Council authorized the purchase of portable toilets and Dumpsters for both beaches, at a cost of more than $94,000.
Other incidents include boating violations or accidents, Sandahl said. Last year, he said boating incidents rose in number compared to previous years.
His department dealt with three minor boat collisions, one significant crash and one significant boat overturn, both of which sent occupants into the river.
“Not all of those situations get reported to us,” Sandahl said. “People are extracted out of the water by other dipnet participants.”
Sandahl said he hopes all boat operators maintain safe speeds and remain vigilant of their surroundings throughout the season.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com.