Stream Watch wraps up a season of cleaning at the Kasilof dipnet fishery
When dipnetters head home at the end of the season, they leave a lot behind: zip ties, toilet paper, bags of liquified salmon, hundreds of cigarette butts and sometimes even entire campsites — tents and all.
For six weeks during the summer, volunteers and staff from the Kenai Watershed Forum turn out — rain or shine — to the North Kasilof Beach at the mouth of the Kasilof River to clean up the non-natural materials left there during the fishing season.
Aug. 9 was the last Stream Watch day of the summer. And on an overcast Tuesday evening, a group of local residents who care about the cleanliness of their waterways showed up for two hours of what they call Trashersize.
“And we walk up and down the beach and try to remove as much trash, as much waste, as much of anything as we can that’s not natural on the beach,” said Kevin Duffie, a Stream Watch intern through the Kenai Watershed Forum.
On Tuesday, he was armed with a long grabber reacher and a bright yellow bag filled with what he’s found so far this afternoon.
Stream Watch was founded in 1994 by anglers who wanted to protect the wild salmon habitat in the Kenai area, according to the Watershed Forum website. In exchange for their service, volunteers receive uniforms, supplies and access to free campsites.
The Kasilof dipnetting season began June 25 and ended Aug. 7. While the popularity of the dipnet fishery on the Kenai River has actually declined in recent years on the Kenai River, it has increased on the Kasilof.
Sara Aamodt, the new membership coordinator at the Kenai Watershed Forum, said it’s the traffic from out of town that creates problems on the beach.
“People that live around here generally care about the beach. It gets a little messier when people from out of town come in,” she said.
This summer alone, Stream Watch has collected more than 700 pounds of trash at the Kasilof site, Duffie said. At the start of Tuesday’s session, he anticipated reaching 1,000 pounds.
“Right now we’re at 754 pounds of trash, and we’re hoping to hit 1,000 pounds before the end. You never know how much trash you’re gonna get on the beach,” Duffie said.
He said the cleanup season started out slow. But by week three, he realized they needed to set their expectations for each haul a little higher.
Duffie said the things they find the most of are cigarette butts, Capri Sun straw wrappers and zip ties.
Cigarette butts aren’t just the most commonly found item — they’re also of particular concern to volunteers like Marilyn Albright, who has been with Stream Watch for three years.
She said aside from just looking ugly on the beach, they’re eaten by birds, so it’s critical that they’re collected — so critical that there’s an incentive for the best cigarette-butt collector.
“Whoever finds the most cigarette butts each week gets a gift certificate to some local business in town,” Albright said.
She said most of the time, she can find over 100 cigarette butts in one evening. If five or six volunteers each collect that many, those butts really add up.
When dipnetters are out on the beaches earlier in the season, the Stream Watch work is tougher. Often, they’ll find entire campsites that have been inexplicably abandoned on the beach.
“It’s like they just walked away. The tent and everything is there, and they’re just gone,” Albright said.
She said last week, the team found a campsite decked out with a tent, coolers and even electronics.
Albright and her husband David commute out from Sterling each week to participate in Stream Watch. She said she keeps coming back because it’s a useful thing to do — and a good excuse to take a walk on the beach.
Shet also enjoys the company.
“I really enjoy meeting young people who are interested in all of this. They’re just really a joy to be around and they’re doing jobs that are worthwhile, and I really like that,” she said. “I think that’s a really good thing. There’s hope for us all.”
Stream Watch orchestrates similar Trashersize programming at the Kenai River dipnet and also does cleanups on the riverbank of the Russian River in Cooper Landing, as well as patrols to pick up fishing lines, hooks and trash. Duffie said they also fill in the holes set-netters dig on the beach to hold their nets.
Beyond cleanups, the Stream Watch team is also working to get ahead of the trash issues before they happen. They have informational booths at active dipnet sites to teach anglers about reporting requirements and watershed stewardship. And this year, for the first time, they set up a booth at the Kasilof fishery.