By Jenny Neyman
Snow may be a long way off this time of year, but the Kenai Central High School ski team is still focused on what’s covering the ground. In July at the Kenai beach during the personal-use dip-net fishery, that’s trash. Lots of it. Of all shapes and sizes — bottles, cans and food wrappers, lost or discarded clothes and shoes, fishing and camping gear, the occasional tire or dirty diaper, and fish heads — hundreds upon thousands of bodiless, eyeless, decomposing, sand-encrusted, seagull-picked-over fish heads.
And it all needs to be cleaned up. That’s where the ski team comes in.
“All the trash people end up leaving will get blown around or what not. We help pick it up because the dip-netters, I don’t think that they understand the kind of impact they have on the beach,” said D’Anna Gibson, KCHS ski coach. “For me, I’ve been a dip-netter in the past. I have a better appreciation for what goes into the city cleaning this place up. It’s like, ‘Oh, wow.’ All those fish heads, if they don’t get washed out with the tide, we have to pick them up — and the guts and trash.”
For three summers now, KCHS skiers, coaches and conscripted family members have patrolled the parking lots, access road, sand dunes and shoreline of the north bank of the mouth of the Kenai River two to three times a week during the dip-net fishery. It’s a fundraiser originally arranged as a civics project by now-graduated KCHS skier Trent Semmens. The city of Kenai directs the skiers where and when to clean, supplies them with bags and gloves and compensates them for their efforts. The team, in turn, picks up what others leave behind, as well as a new perspective on the importance of litter prevention.
“It’s just so good for the kids to give back to the community,” Gibson said. “They get compensated, but it’s good for them to see what will happen if you don’t pick up your trash.”
What happens is it sits there until someone else cleans it up, in the meantime creating an eyesore as well as an ecological threat to the sensitive river mouth area.
Department of Environmental Conservation water-quality testing at the north Kenai River mouth beach from July 8 to 11 shows elevated levels of enterococci bacteria, which, at high levels, can cause stomachaches, diarrhea or ear, eye and skin infections.
The bacteria are found in the feces of warm-blooded animals, including birds, seals and humans. DEC hasn’t named a source of the contamination, and at this point is suggesting precautions to avoid getting sick — avoid swimming in or drinking the water, rinse after contact with the water, and cook all fish to a minimum of 145 degrees. But people may be to blame, with thousands of dip-netters swarming the shore as sockeye salmon surge into the river. Supported by parking fees, the city of Kenai has pumped an ever-increasing amount of funding into managing and facilitating the fishery over the years, including providing trash receptacles and portable restrooms to control waste.
New last year were tubs for fish waste and trash barrels placed at regular intervals along the beach.
“From my perspective it gets a little better every year. I have noticed a difference this year as opposed to last year and the year before,” Gibson said. “The city works wonders, supplying garbage cans and totes for fish heads. It’s kind of catching on and people are better. (The city) makes leaps and bounds in what works and what doesn’t work.” Continue reading