Enforcement likely to be focused on the East Side setnet fishery

Photo/Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion

Each summer the Soldotna post of the state’s Wildlife Troopers calls for reinforcements.

Between the sprawling dipnet fisheries at the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, commercial set and driftnetting fleets and the sportfishing pressure on Kenai Peninsula rivers and lakes — enforcement of fisheries regulations can be a daunting task for the 11 wildlife troopers stationed between Anchor Point, Soldotna and Seward.

Lieut. Paul McConnell, deputy commander for the B-detachment of the wildlife troopers, said the department usually brings in between two and four extra troopers, for a week to ten days, near the middle of July — the usual peak of the central Kenai Peninsula’s sockeye salmon runs.

Barring any changes in the surprise addition of $175,0000 into the state’s capital projects budget for the next fiscal year, the Troopers will likely spend the vast majority of the money on extra officers and lodging for those officers during the upcoming fishing season, McConnell said.

He said the detachment was considering bringing an extra sergeant and up to five extra troopers to fill in for the month of July.

To house those officers in motor homes — at about $6500 a piece for the duration of July — the detachment would spend about $20,000 on housing alone, he said.

Efforts will focus primarily on enforcing regulations in the commercial setnet fishery, McConnell said.

“That’s part of what, apparently, the legislature wants us to do and from earlier language (in the amendment) it looked like there’s concern about whether fish tickets are being completed accurately, so that would be another thing we would look at,” McConnell said. “But, until we see the actual language, I don’t actually know.”

The money would give the troopers the ability to dedicate people to cover the setnet fishery rather than just responding to calls for service or violations, he said.

“Right now the plan is in the infancy — it’s to keep (officers) on the setnet fishery,” McConnell said. “We’ll be checking 45 mesh and 29 mesh (net depth) and things like that... and possibly somehow try to find out if people are cheating on their fish tickets or not reporting on their fish tickets.”

While enforcement would still take place in the sport fishery on the Kenai River and in the personal use fishery, McConnell said the focus would be on the user groups who take the most fish in the Cook Inlet.

“It’s who is taking the biggest piece of the pie and generally that’s the resource group that has the ability to affect the resource the most and that’s always the commercial fishermen,” he said.

Typically, the detachment borrows the P/V Cama’i from a trooper detachment in Kodiak to help enforce fisheries regulation in the Cook Inlet. The the 65-foot vessel is primarily used to monitor the Cook Inlet’s commercial drift gillnetting fleet, while officers monitor the setnet fleet from the beach, McConnell said.

The new officers, or temporary duty assignment officers, will likely be stationed in the personal use dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River where regulations are relatively simple, McConnell said. The officers who have been stationed in Soldotna or on the Kenai Peninsula for longer will spend their time in the more complex fisheries.

Everyone will need a “crash course” in the new commercial fishery regulations passed by the state’s Board of Fisheries in February, McConnell said.

While planning and the logistics of added enforcement is still in its infancy, McConnell said the troopers were always grateful for the extra money.

“It changes our plans ... it’s kind of like when you get used to doing things a certain way and a wrench gets throw in — you have to readjust,” he said.

But, alongside the new money, McConnell said, comes the responsibility of using it the way the legislature intends it to be used.

“The biggest challenge, or the biggest concern I would see is not knowing what the legislature expects as a result of that (appropriation),” he said. “How do you meet an expectation when you don’t know what the expectation is?”

11/21/2016 - 11:13am