The Kenai River personal-use fishery has certainly had its share of headlines this month, as thousands of Alaskans converge on the city of Kenai to catch their share of salmon.
The city of Kenai has, by default, taken on the role of managing the crowds, an endeavor that continues to evolve from year to year.
One issue that has cropped up in recent years is the number of dipnetters trying to get away from the bulk of the crowd by accessing the river from Bridge Access Road, by the Warren Ames Bridge, which marks the boundary of the personal-use fishery.
The problem is that there exists currently very little infrastructure for people to access the river there from the shore, aside from a small gravel parking area managed by the state. That means vehicles parked along the shoulder on Bridge Access Road, and, more critically, it means more and more people traipsing across the wetlands on the Kenai River flats to get to the bank. Driving across the bridge, all you need to do is look downstream to see the flattened, compacted grass, and the web of trails that don’t disappear when the dipnet season closes.
As the Clarion reported, the Department of Natural Resources is looking into projects to mitigate the impact, such as elevated walkways to provide access, or improving the trail with some other type of permeable material.
While we agree that action needs to be taken to protect the Kenai River banks, land managers appear to be facing a Catch-22 in that any river access improvements are likely to draw even more people to the river, and necessitate even more improvements. Build it, and they will come. It might be time to consider a different solution, and close sections of the river bank to fishing, as has been done on other parts of the river that were being loved to death.
In a recent story, a number of people accessing the dipnet fishery from Bridge Access Road said they do so because its not as crowded and frenzied as the things are on the beaches. One even said that if the fishing isn’t fun, you might as well get your fish at the market.
For better or for worse, the dipnet fishery has become too popular to afford anybody a tranquil, idyllic fishing experience. We appreciate Alaskans’ desire to get away from the crowds, but we’re not sure that providing greater access to a sensitive wetland is the way to do it.