It’s just about the midway point for the annual personal-use fishery on the Kenai River. So far, fishing has been a bit on the slow side.
Big pulses of sockeye haven’t yet made their way into the river, but there have been a couple days this week with counts in excess of 30,000 fish. But even if the fishing is slow, the ability to get information about the fishery is anything but. The city of Kenai’s new dipnetting app has proved surprisingly popular, says Dan Castimore, the city’s information technology director.
“We had 123,000 and 5,650 downloads (as of Monday). They’re real good numbers. It’s pretty impressive, actually. I was thinking we’d have maybe 10,000 downloads and we’re well on our way to get there.”
Castimore designed the application, which was a new venture for him. The idea came out of meetings city workers have fairly regularly concerning the fishery. Police Chief David Ross gets the credit for it, though.
“(He) said, 'We should just get a dipnet app,' and I’m not sure if he was serious or joking, but the idea just kind of took off and we went from there.”
He says they’ve already gotten lots of feedback and made some tweaks to the program, mostly to include more fishing information, including links to the Department of Fish and Game for the latest on commercial openers, which people like to know in order to maximize their chances at netting some sockeye. But even with all that, there’s only so much the app can do.
“The other problem is when people say, 'We want to know the commercial openers.' Well, we have set gillnetting, drift gillnetting, we have openers that are local, we have openers that are local for Kasilof. When you actually go and look at that webpage for commercial openings, it takes some time to read through it and figure out what it’s saying. So unfortunately, it’s not as easy as saying, ‘Hey, the commercial fleet is out tomorrow."
With all those page views and downloads, Castimore says they did have to make some upgrades to the city’s servers, especially considering some of the high-bandwidth features. There are a ton of webcams to watch through the app that show both beaches, parking areas and more.
“Webcams grew out of the app. We’ve had webcams on the fishery since I started here in 2013 and we’ve been adding them. But every camera we’d added previously was for us to use to manage the fishery. So we had cameras on the roads, we had cameras on the parking lots, in areas where we had to worry about problems occurring. We didn’t have any cameras at all that the public would be interested in because it was just never our goal. Our goal was to manage the fishery. So that was the change this year is we’ve actually added cameras that are of interest to the public, and in fact when I looked (Monday) at all the cameras and the viewing history of them, the ones we added this year are the ones that are the most popular.”
Castimore says that while they’ve tried to accommodate useful features for folks participating in the fishery, safety and communication come first. That was evident last week, when users received a push notification regarding a car fire on the south beach. This year’s version of the app was put together relatively quickly through a third-party provider, which limited the number and kind of features available. Castimore says that next year they’ll have more time to build something a little more custom with even more stuff for people to look at, use and communicate with.