This fishing season, new safety rules limit access to Dillingham harbor

Jun 4, 2020

Around 500 boats come in and out of the harbor throughout the season for repairs or to take breaks between fishing openers. But a new set of safety rules changes that. 

The Dillingham boat harbor is unusually quiet for early June. June 2, 2020.
Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG

Alaska may be opening back up, but the Dillingham boat harbor is not doing business as usual this summer.

Around 500 boats come in and out of the harbor throughout the fishing season for repairs or to take breaks between fishing openers. A new set of safety rules changes that. They’re aimed at reducing contact between people in an effort to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19.

Fishermen can’t stay in the harbor or use the floats, docks or bulkheads for more than a couple hours at a time, and they have to ask for permission from the harbor master to use the facilities. If someone needs to extend their stay for repair work, they have to bring their boat out of the water and move it to the boat yard or another work area.

Dillingham’s harbor master, Jean Barrett, worked with the city’s Port Advisory Committee to come up with the rules. He says they will help keep people safe, but he doesn’t expect everyone to agree with them.

“There's going to be some pushback. There's going to be some people that’ll say, ‘Hey, I pay my fees. Why can't I stay here?’ I hope that there's not a problem. I hope we can quash any issues before they become big issues," Barrett said. 

During a recent COVID-19 update, Dillingham City Manager Tod Larson said that local fishermen have to get their boats out of the boatyard as soon as possible, since outside fishermen are starting to arrive and may need to quarantine there.

Locals can use the Bristol Alliance Fuels dry dock for extended stays, as long as they sign an agreement to follow city and state requirements. This includes anyone living in Bristol Bay who is not in quarantine.

Residents of villages in the Dillingham Census Area are not required to have travel permits to come to Dillingham, according to the city. That applies to residents of Koliganek, New Stuyahok, Aleknagik, Clarks Point, Ekwok, Portage Creek, Manokotak, Twin Hills, and Togiak. However, the city still recommends that people in those communities apply for permits to ensure they are complying with city requirements.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation, which owns Bristol Alliance Fuels, reached the local use agreement with PAF so that residents can avoid contact with outside fishermen in the boat yard. 

“There’s some people in Dillingham, along with Peter Pan, PAF and Bristol Alliance, that have put this all together. I think it's a great deal for the local fishermen," Barrett said. 

Barrett says that if people break the rules, the city could deny harbor and city services, and could also issue fines and citations. Facilities like the bathhouse, the crane, parking, and businesses will still be accessible.

Contact the author at kendra@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.