While fishermen and families from around Alaska enjoy Kenai’s month-long personal use dipnet season each year, a myriad of forces are at work to maintain the fishery behind the scenes.
With thousands of Alaskans flooding the north and south Kenai beaches during the season’s peak weekend, both city and community resources were necessary to keep the fishery running smoothly. Maintenance workers from the Parks and Recreation Commission made sure both beaches stayed clean and safe, first patrolling them on an ATV, then combing the sand with a large rake on a tractor.
Larry Hul, a Parks and Recreation employee, said the tractors became necessary years ago when excessive litter on the beach became a problem.
“It started with the fish heads, because they used to be really bad,” Hul said. “Now, people are disposing of them properly I guess, because there haven’t been near as many.”
As soon as the fishery closes each night at 11 p.m., Hul can be seen patrolling the beach. Later, he returns with the tractor, smoothing out the sand disrupted throughout the day and catching brush and other debris as he goes. Hul said beach cleanup must be done at night to avoid disturbing people while they walk or clean their fish.
In addition to maintenance, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Kenai Police Department officers were on patrol to uphold the rules of the fishery and maintain order.
Sgt. Jay Sjogren with the Kenai Police Department said, as in previous years, the most common violations officers encounter are related to parking and camping permits. More often than not, he said campers are simply unaware they’re in a prohibited area.
“People are always finding a place to camp where they’re not allowed to this time of year, and we’re having to make contact with them,” Sjogren said.
Designating personnel to cover the dipnet season while attending to all the department’s regular needs is a challenge, Sjogren said. On Saturday, there was one Kenai police officer assigned to patrol the beaches, along with four Temporary Enforcement Officers hired for the summer and Sjogren. There were two officers on regular duty who could also be called to the dipnet fishery at any time to handle calls in addition to their work in the city.
“The police administration sits down and figures out what our resources are and where we need to have them,” Sjogren said. “We try to look at, historically, what have been the busiest nights or specific days during dipnetting. We know historically the second week of dipnetting … is generally when the fish arrive and when we have our biggest influx of people, so that’s when we try to distribute our resources wisely.”
Even local vendors are getting involved with the fishery, cashing in on the influx of people while making sure the fishers remain well fed and alert. Soldotna resident Jessica Jackson split her time between the Wook Waffez Waffle Emporium and food truck called Chow Time.
Jackson said she and her boyfriend Tyler Sherman, manager of the Waffle Emporium, had been working the dipnet season since it opened on July 10. Parked in the lot at the Spruce Street entrance, she said the truck saw a spike in sales over the weekend.
“First day was slow, sold about 20 waffles,” Jackson said. “Today, I want to say they sold about a hundred waffles.”
At one point on Saturday, the Emporium ran out of batter. Jackson said the best part about working the dipnet is people’s expressions when they sample some of the truck’s more unique stuffed waffles.
“I like seeing the customers’ faces after they try it,” she said. “A lot of people, with the waffle wagon especially, they look at you and they’re like, ‘Really? All of this on a waffle?’ We have a buffalo chicken one, which is spicy… and once they have it they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to come back and have another.’”
Help maintaining the fishery came from outside the community as well. Volunteers from Alaska Missions, an “evangelical Christian organization” dedicated to providing services in Alaska, were on the beaches doing several things to help maintain the fishery. From helping with traffic control and handing out free hotdogs to walking with beaches to share their message, the volunteers got involved with the dipnetters.
Alec Clay, of Louisiana, sat on a cement barrier on Saturday directing traffic while he talked about his decision to join Alaska Missions and come to Kenai with about 200 other volunteers. It was the soon-to-be college freshman’s first trip with the organization.
“I just felt God putting it on my heart that I needed to start being more active in promoting his word,” Clay said. “The first thing I thought of was Alaska Missions.”
Of the jobs he’d performed since arriving on July 16, Clay said walking the beach and witnessing to dipnet participants was by far his favorite.
“They sound like they want to talk. They’re really, really friendly people,” Clay said. “Witnessing to people, sharing the gospel, is definitely something I love doing.”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.