Where there are masses of fish, there’s likely to be masses of people. And where there are masses of people, there are likely businesses attempting to make some money.
That’s the case with the Kenai personal-use, dip-net fishery. All sorts of businesses have sprouted up along the mouth of the Kenai River, trying to net revenue off the fishermen trying to net fish.
One of those types of businesses came under fire at the Alaska Board of Fisheries this week. The board is meeting in Anchorage to review Upper Cook Inlet fishery proposals through next Wednesday. On Thursday, they voted on a proposal that would ban a relatively new practice — guiding for dip-netters.
Glen Trombley, of Chugiak, owns Expeditions North LLC guiding service. During July, when the reds are running, he runs the Dip Ship in the mouth of the Kenai River, taking dip-netters out to get their personal-use sockeye.
“Some, for whatever reason, cannot physically access this particular fishery without some type of assistance. Not to mention families with small children that would normally not be able to participate from shore due to safety issues,” Trombley said.
Trombley says guides represent only about 5 percent of the boats participating in the Kenai dip-net fishery but his clientele represent a large portion of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to fish.
His boat is designed to accommodate people with disabilities and mobility constraints, such as the elderly and people in wheelchairs. Those folks likely wouldn’t be able to fish from the beach, and if they didn’t have access to a boat, they might not be able to fish at all.
“Proposition 163 is based on a personal desire to simply restrict Alaskans from accessing this fishery in a legal, ethical and safe manner that guide services such as mine provide,” Trombley said.
Catherine Felt, of Kenai, submitted the proposal to ban guide services in the Kenai and Kasilof personal-use dip-net fisheries. She writes that, “allowing for individuals to profit from personal-use fisheries by providing guide services is not within the intent of these fisheries.”
Board of Fish Chair Reed Morisky, of Fairbanks, agreed that guiding is not intent of the dip-net fishery, but that lots of fisheries have spawned ancillary money-making opportunities.
“I don’t think it was the intent of those folks that came in the wooden ships originally that we were going to have nonresident crew come up and then a van pick them up from the airport and bring them to the boat. It may be a ridiculous comparison but to look at someone out in the river dip netting and there’s a business that’s taking them out, it’s really an access issue,” Morisky said.
Board member John Jensen, of Petersburg, likes the idea of having guide boats in the river, as they are subject to regulations that private boaters are not.
“I’m glad there is guides on the river that can take people out dip netting and provide a safe platform to work from. I’ve seen what people can put in the water and a lot of it can turn into a disaster. So these guides that are taking people out dip netting have a Coast Guard-certified boat and they’re familiar with the river and they know how to do it,” Jensen said.
Boar member Fritz Johnson, of Dillingham, commends services like Trombley’s that improve Alaskans’ access to the fishery.
“I appreciate the fact that there are those who would make a business of helping Alaskans with disabilities or elders to allow them to participate in this fishery and I see no problem with that whatsoever. I think to not make that available would be a disservice to the public,” Johnson said.
Of course, guide services don’t have to cater to people with access challenges. They can simply be seats for hire. Board member Israel Payton, of Wasilla, doesn’t see anything wrong with that, either.
“They’re speaking French and I’m reading Chinese, that’s how far off we are on that one. I really don’t understand why we would want to limit Alaskans access to the resource. I enjoy going out on charters, I hire guides,” Payton said.
The board voted unanimously to continue to allow guides to operate in the Kenai and Kasilof dip-net fisheries.
This week’s number is $3,094. That’s the city of Kenai’s net revenue from administering the 2019 dip-net fishery.