Peak dipnet weekend keeps law enforcement busy

The historically busy second weekend of Kenai’s personal-use dipnet season kept local and state law enforcement on its toes this year.

The Kenai Police Department received 38 dipnet-related calls for service from 12 a.m. on Friday through Sunday evening, according to data provided by Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl. Of those calls, only one resulted in an arrest. The call was a report of a potentially intoxicated driver, and the arrest was for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The calls for service ranged from parking violations and pocket dials to a report of fireworks and a dog bite. Six calls, the most for any single category, were received in regard to found property.

Citations given out by Kenai police officers during this year’s dipnet season are still being tallied and turned in, Sandahl said in an email. These citations are most often for parking or camping permit violations. Last year, the Kenai Police Department received 150 dipnet-related calls for service and officers gave out 132 citations during the season, Sandahl told the Clarion in a previous interview. All of last year’s citations were for parking-related violations.

Sgt. Jay Sjogren was the police supervisor for the Kenai beaches over the weekend, in addition to carrying out his normal duties for the police department. In a Saturday interview with the Clarion, he said responding to dipnet-related calls for service is challenging when there are so few resources to spread around.

“We know historically the second week of dipnetting — usually that second weekend of it generally is when the fish arrive and when we have the biggest influx of people,” Sjogren said. “That’s when we try to distribute our resources wisely and have an extra person dedicated to just a morning and in the evening to help with traffic control on Bridge Access Road. We will call in people as needed if things are just getting busy.”

The Kenai Police Department hired six Temporary Enforcement Officers for the summer who are also tasked with patrolling the beaches during dipnet season. These temporary officers do not have the same powers of authority as the department’s full-time staff, however. Sjogren said there were four Temporary Enforcement Officers patrolling Kenai’s beaches on Saturday, in addition to himself, one police officer assigned specifically to the dipnet, and two police officers who could be called in from their regular patrols if necessary.

Sjogren said activity and potential incidents related to dipnetting rise and fall with the success of the fishing. Fewer fish equals fewer people and fewer calls for service. Still, the main issues continue to be small violations, like those related to permits.

“It is parking issues, and it’s camping issues,” Sjogren said. “That seems to be a reoccurring thing.”

Alaska State Troopers were busy throughout the weekend as well. They responded to several vehicle accidents and other incidents in the Kenai, Soldotna and Kasilof areas. Alaska State Trooper Public Information Officer Megan Peters said incidents in the dispatch can’t necessarily be connected to specific events, but that annual holidays and big weekends generally create the potential for increased trooper activity.

“Any time we have a change of season or some kind of (event) like dipnetting, we know more people are going to be down there,” Peters said. “Certainly any time there’s an increase of people operating on the roads, you do have an increase in incidents.”

According to Monday’s dispatch, troopers responded to two motor vehicle collisions in Kenai, an equipment violation and a collision that resulted in damage in Kasilof, and a warrant arrest, vehicle theft, criminal mischief and misconduct involving a controlled substance in Soldotna over the weekend.

Peters said the Department of Public Safety tries to accommodate for popular events or busy weekends the best it can, but that troopers are normally thin on the ground because they have to respond to calls in their normal jurisdictions as well.

“We certainly had extra people on (this weekend), but that was on the wildlife side,” Peters said. “Our Wildlife Troopers were definitely down there in force.”

Peters said citations handed out by Wildlife Troopers for dipnet fishery violations are still being collected.

Troopers and local enforcement officers work jointly to handle incidents during peak weekends and events, Peters said. If Kenai police respond to a big or dangerous incident, for example, she said troopers will show up to assist them.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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