Current weather

  • Scattered clouds
  • 12°
    Scattered clouds
  • Comment

Early run Kenai king salmon closure a blow to guides

Posted: March 12, 2014 - 9:33pm  |  Updated: March 12, 2014 - 9:59pm
File photo/Peninsula Clarion
File photo/Peninsula Clarion

Bruce Ewitt guided on the Kenai River for 11 years before he quit after the 2012 fishing season and shifted his efforts toward king salmon returning to the Columbia River.

He joined the ranks of sportfishing guides, nearly 100 since 2007, who have stopped guiding on the Kenai River a trend that other guides say could be indicative of future river use.

Ewitt, who primarily guided for king salmon, said the dwindling numbers of king salmon returning to the river made it difficult to make a living.

“When you drive up and you’re going to stay up there for almost four months, by the time you pay your rent and your meals … it’s about 30-40 percent higher than it is back here (in Washington),” he said. “You need to be doing something to generate a cash flow and if you’re not fishing, you ain’t doing anything.”

As an out-of-state guide, Ewitt is part of a minority in the guided fishing industry on the Kenai River where about 75 percent of the registered guides are residents, according to Alaska Department of Natural Resources permit data.

But, dwindling fishing time has made it increasingly difficult for professional guides to make a living taking anglers out for a chance at the iconic Kenai River king salmon.

“I took another job,” said Ed O’Conner, owner and guide at Sterling-based Advantage Angling. “It’s wiping me out. It’s almost impossible to book June trips.”

In June, anglers hoping for a chance at Kenai River king salmon would be targeting the early run of the fish. However, in late February the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, announced a preseason closure of king fishing on the early run — eliminating the already struggling six-week fishery.

While the preseason closure was unusual, managers said the action had precedent.

The, last time the river was closed to king salmon fishing preseason was in 1965 according to ADFG data.

The loss of catch-and-release fishing cut off an avenue of revenue for guides who could take anglers on other trips if king salmon fishing fell through.

“I enjoy taking people out for sockeye, the silver fishing and rainbows,” Ewitt said. “The money fish are the big kings and they’re not there.”

A preseason forecast of the run estimated a return of 2,230 fish — well below the lower end of the ADFG optimum escapement goal range of 5,300 – 9,000 fish.

The sport fishery for early run kings will be closed beginning May 1 through June 30.

While some private anglers, like Dwight Kramer chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition, said they supported the closure — the move is a blow to guides who make a living on guiding for king salmon on the Kenai River.

Guides like Greg Brush owner of EZ Limit Guide Service, who last year voluntarily switched his clients to catch-and-release only fishing when they targeted Kenai king salmon.

Brush questioned the rationale for the closure using data like the Kenai River creel census data, or the angler-reported data on fishing effort, data on the number of boats and anglers per day, and ADFG estimates of catch-and-release mortality on Kenai River kings, Brush estimated that the closure of the early run fishery would save about 35 fish.

“I’m estimating 15 boats a day, three anglers on average per boat — which is generous — that’s 45 anglers per day. I’m estimating 45 anglers per day on the Kenai River during the early run during May and June. If we have a 25 percent success rate, so one fisherman out of four catches a king … that means 12 fish a day, 12 kings a day are caught on the Kenai River. That’s a very generous day,” he said.

Assistant area management biologist Jason Pawluk said he could not corroborate Brush’s figures but that saving roughly 35 fish would not be a statistically significant number in the context of the entire early run of king salmon.

However, he said, the larger issue was the extremely low forecast of the run of king salmon.

“What is statistically significant is that we’re forecasting a run that’s less than half of the lower end of the escapement goal,” Pawluk said. “That’s significant.”

Angler effort on the early run has trended downward in recent years and during 2013 ADFG managers restricted the early run of king salmon to catch and release and trophy fishing May 16 before closing it to king salmon fishing on June 20.

Five fish died from catch-and-release fishing in 2013, according to preliminary data from the ADFG 2010-2012 annual management report and 2013 recreational fisheries overview.

While Brush called the ADFG decision to close the river controversial and disappointing, he said he did support it — in a fashion.

“My gripe is not that they closed the Kenai River,” he said. “I’m actually in support of that.”

 

Paired Restrictions

While the closure of the early run of king salmon represented a financial blow to many Kenai River guides and businesses associated with the sport fishery, Brush said there was a lack of equal harvest reduction in other fisheries in the Cook Inlet that harvest Kenai-bound king salmon.

“They basically crushed our fishery,” Brush said. “They need to have equal restrictions on the other fisheries that they are killing (king salmon).”

Specifically, Brush said the commercial setnet fishery that opens in late June in the Kasilof section of the Cook Inlet and a marine recreational fishery that catches king salmon in the Lower Cook Inlet should be restricted.

“Basically — when Fish and Game closes a fishery completely, any fishery, they are saying in their actions, ‘we cannot afford one dead fish,’” he said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of fish it is, it doesn’t matter if it’s sport or if it’s saltwater or inriver.”

Pat Shields, commercial area management biologist, said he was not sure how ADFG would fish the Kasilof section of the setnet fishery as ADFG staff was still meeting to decide how they would fish the upcoming season.

Restrictions to the marine recreational fishery in the Lower Cook Inlet were announced by ADFG alongside the emergency order that closed the early run of king salmon.

The combined annual limit for king salmon, 20-inches or greater in length, is five for the Cook Inlet. However, just two of those kings can be harvested from the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Ninilchik River and all marine waters down to Bluff Point from May 1- June 30, according to the ADFG emergency order.

“We tied the annual limit for kings in the marine waters with that of the Lower Cook Inlet streams,” said Carol Kervliet, management biologist in the area.

Other restrictions have been placed on the marine recreational fishery in recent years including restricting the fishery to no-bait and single-hook fishing as well as restrictions on how close to shore marine anglers can fish according to ADFG emergency orders from 2012 and 2013.

While each of the management actions were designed to conserve king salmon, which are returning in low numbers decline Inlet-wide, Tom Vania, ADFG coordinator who oversees management of the Cook Inlet, said restrictions in the Lower Cook Inlet were not necessarily mean to pair with those on the Kenai River.

“In the marine rec fishery — typically for that early run time period — we’re managing that based on actions they’ve taken for the Lower Cook Inlet area,” he said. “It’s based more off of the Lower Cook Inlet streams than they are on the Kenai.”

While the restrictions may be announced at the same time, Vania said, they were not necessarily related.

Still, a reduction in king salmon harvest in the lower parts of the Cook Inlet would result in higher numbers of fish returning to Upper Cook Inlet.

“If you reduce harvest in the marine rec fishery, because they are a mixed stock fishery, they’re going to harvest less fish and a percentage of those fish are going to be Kenai fish,” he said.

Just how much of the harvest of Kenai-bound king salmon occurs in the marine rec fishery is still in question, Vania said.

However, genetic sampling is set to begin in 2014 in the marine fishery and will allow managers to understand how to structure the fishery, he said.

 

A difficult time

As managers figure out how to reduce king salmon harvest in the commercial and sport fisheries, local guides say they are struggling to stay financially viable.

“I guide for all species on the river, but the big draw is always the kings,” O’Connor said. “We were lucky we had a good early run of sockeye last year and we were able to get some people on fish last year … but it’s definitely harder to get them up here.”

O’Connor, like several other guides, said he still thought the closure was “the right decision” for ADFG managers, but said he would likely be switching to guiding part-time permanently.

Steve McClure, owner of McClure’s Rustic River Retreat, and president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association said he had several clients that were not coming to the state at all, while others had moved to a different time period.

While the season on early run king salmon is just about six weeks long, McClure said the closure would have a ripple effect throughout the community as guides did not have the famed king salmon as a lure for out-of-state anglers.

In previous seasons when king salmon fishing has been severely restricted, McClure said, guides could still book other trips and guide for other types of fish with clients who —once on the Kenai Peninsula — are willing to spend a vacation fishing even if they cannot get a chance at the Kenai king salmon.

“The Kenai king is the biggest king salmon in the world, it has a draw,” McClure said.

Still, McClure said he was in support of the closure and was glad ADFG managers announced it as early as they did.

“So we can tell our clients,” McClure said. “The more notice, the better.”

For Ewitt, who stopped guiding on the Kenai River after the 2012 season — the last good season he had was in 2009.

“There were a lot of years where I was hitting 150-200 kings a year. It was pretty good fishing,” he said.

During his last year, Ewitt said he hooked nine king salmon.

“That’s hardly worth talking to people about,” he said. “Why would I go up there and just sit on my hands and listen to disappointed people.”

Still, Ewitt said, he has a lot of friends who are heavily invested in the fishery and he hoped the community would support them.

“There’s an awful lot of people, businesses that aren’t able to stay with it if they don’t have the tourist trade there to make a living,” he said.

  • Comment

Comments (19) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
leewaytooo
2147
Points
leewaytooo 03/13/14 - 02:02 am
1
0
how many of the tourists

how many of the tourists actually fish?

how many of the tourists can afford to pay for a
COMMERICAL GUIDE?

100 less guides is a start..........

catch and release is playing with our food.....

and a pointless exercise and waste of energy....

make the river non motorized for COMMERICAL GUIDES.

and back to 35hp for everyone else..

or better yet.........oars for everyone....... make it

a quiet pleasant drift down the river...... promote serenity

and they will come..........be unique

kenai-king
255
Points
kenai-king 03/13/14 - 02:22 pm
0
0
Columbia Guides

I say good ridden see ya!!!!!!

AK49er
131
Points
AK49er 03/13/14 - 07:29 pm
3
0
Guides

To paraphrase a post-pipeline bumper sticker, "Happiness is a Kenai River guide heading south, with a couple of his buddies under each arm".
Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
The peninsula was a much better place before fishing guides started sucking their living from from it.

rwhobby
201
Points
rwhobby 03/13/14 - 08:39 pm
5
0
Kenai kings

Well it's a step in the right direction by closing king fishing, but that not enough. Close the king fishery for the next 5 years and maybe than it will do the fishery good. Only people I hear saying anything about the river is out of state guides and politicians, the local people trying to save the resource. I lived in Kenai my whole life and remember when the river was quiet nice and peaceful with just local people with their kids. Four years ago was the last time I was on the river, I never been treated with disrespect from the guides telling you to move because they have paying clientele and they own the river. I am in favor of closing the river for five years and that the stock rebuild.

Offcenter
42
Points
Offcenter 03/14/14 - 05:53 am
1
0
alternatives

The gist of the article is that people who depend on tourism will be hurt by the King closure. There are other things to do on the Kenai Peninsula besides fish; you can hike, bike, camp, run, raft, and so on. The only "problem" is that the demographics for people interested in these activities is different from those who only want a trophy King, and so the marketing needs to shift.

kenaiman1957
18
Points
kenaiman1957 03/14/14 - 06:56 am
3
0
Kenai Kings

The Kenai River should have been closed to King fishing a few years ago. This is a step in the right direction.

potomac
191
Points
potomac 03/14/14 - 07:28 am
3
0
guides

It is unreal how long this same fish fight goes on, usually the same complainers like Brush who would love to catch the very last king to swim up the Kenai. There has been too many guides for years and years, you can't catch that many in river fish from a 4 to 500 guide boats a day commercial guide flotilla, yes I know you have HAD to drop your numbers once you killed the fishery, how about just making all Kenai Peninsula rivers non guided, that way you wont kill off the Kasilof and other rivers when the Kenai is lousy, too late for that too. Your math is a dream Brush, that kind of math is why the Kenai is no longer a great river, but you could always move to the Columbia, I here they have 25,000 kings headed up river

kenairesident
68
Points
kenairesident 03/14/14 - 08:20 am
3
0
too many guides

I remember when we moved here almost 20 years ago, everyone in the boat would catch a king almost every trip. I agree there were too many guides on the river. We haven't fished kings in at least 4 years because it was way too crowded. Keep it closed a couple of years and maybe the fish will be back. I'd rather catch reds anyway! No dipnetting for me.. I like the fight.

Yukon Girl
6
Points
Yukon Girl 03/14/14 - 11:05 am
1
0
so low of a return

Yukon numbers are low too, but not that low, I remember when we had way over 400,000 or more come in our river in 3 or 4 runs. Now we are restricted to even subsistence fish for them, I cant remember when the lower river fished them commercially maybe in 02? How much of those estimated to come back are female? What percent of the salmon actually make it back to spawn? They need to slow down ocean fisheries, commercial fisheries for Kings also!

Unglued
228
Points
Unglued 03/14/14 - 05:53 pm
4
0
It's time to limit guides

Having hammered the Kenai king salmon every year for the past 40, the guides are now reaping what they sowed. If left up to them, they would fish the kings to oblivion. The commercial use of this resource has greatly exceeded any reasonable limit. This would be a good time to limit the number of fishing guides to about 100. The pressure one guide can put on the Kenai is way out of proportion to that of a private angler. I doubt that State Parks has the backbone to do it. If the Legislature won't do it, I guess it's up to the public to get it put on a ballot. We need to take back our river.

rwhobby
201
Points
rwhobby 03/16/14 - 10:42 am
1
0
Comments

If a the people feel this way about protecting the river and saving the resource, why is the Kenai river not closed to king fishing for the next few years to let the stock rebuild. Or is it money and Politics driving to keep the king fishery going so Bob Penny and his cronies can keep making money and could careless about the resource. It's time to take politics out of the fishery.

Unglued
228
Points
Unglued 03/16/14 - 10:49 am
0
0
time for more politics, not less

"Politics" is people getting involved politically, rwhobby. And that's the only way that anything positive will ever happen regarding the Kenai River. How do you think Bob Penney, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and the Kenai River guides get things done?

kenaiman1957
18
Points
kenaiman1957 03/16/14 - 04:27 pm
2
0
Hammered the Kenai Kings

I started fishing the Kenai River in the 70's. In 1985 I became a Kenai River Guide. By the year 1999 I had enough of killing the mighty Kenai River King Salmon. It makes me sick to think I was part of this killing off this very special fish. After I stopped guiding I never fished the river or saltwater for Kings again. I'm sad that the Kenai River has lost the mighty Kings. It should have been closed to Kings years ago. I guess we never thought that the strong runs of Kings would be reduced to these low return numbers. The Kenai River Kings have been hammered so hard for so many years by the sport fishing guides. Sorry Guides but yes you are the problem!

rwhobby
201
Points
rwhobby 03/16/14 - 07:41 pm
1
0
Unglued

So you are saying that Bob Penny and the guides are trying to save the river by Eliminating all the other user groups in the area for just your benefit, sounds like greed to me.

im4fisheries
16
Points
im4fisheries 03/17/14 - 01:26 pm
0
0
150-200 kings a year!!!!!

No wonder!!! Times how many guides??? Its time to hold all the guides accountable for their LOG books and I also say they need to REPORT to ADF&G daily just like the Commercial industry does and that the rest of the world get a peek at the final tally at the end of the year.... not six years down the road.

Can't keep a log book... no license .... I am in favor of a King lottery. Alaska does that for big game animals... why not our big game fish??? The river needs more enforcement and a concrete limit of number of boat per day..... as our population grows I doubt if this problem will ever go away but only increase. Good bye clam beaches.... Good bye Kenai River... Good bye Kasilof river...... good bye to ALL outside "sport" fishermen who come to Play and have money to throw at a "sport" while hard working residents are slammed with closures that will definitely hurt our local economy for the WHOLE year.. not just "tourist" season. As for all the local guides.... its about time you took some of the responsibility for the many years of abuse on this resource and starting setting some real conservation rules on yourself instead of closing down other industries. The commercial industry was limited in 1972, the commercial industry pays a 2% enhancement fee on all money earned to ensure healthy returns, the commercial industry only catches 13% of all kings bound for the Kenai.... need I go on...... don't let the door hit you on the way OUT!

im4fisheries
16
Points
im4fisheries 03/17/14 - 01:26 pm
2
0
150-200 kings a year!!!!!

No wonder!!! Times how many guides??? Its time to hold all the guides accountable for their LOG books and I also say they need to REPORT to ADF&G daily just like the Commercial industry does and that the rest of the world get a peek at the final tally at the end of the year.... not six years down the road.

Can't keep a log book... no license .... I am in favor of a King lottery. Alaska does that for big game animals... why not our big game fish??? The river needs more enforcement and a concrete limit of number of boat per day..... as our population grows I doubt if this problem will ever go away but only increase. Good bye clam beaches.... Good bye Kenai River... Good bye Kasilof river...... good bye to ALL outside "sport" fishermen who come to Play and have money to throw at a "sport" while hard working residents are slammed with closures that will definitely hurt our local economy for the WHOLE year.. not just "tourist" season. As for all the local guides.... its about time you took some of the responsibility for the many years of abuse on this resource and starting setting some real conservation rules on yourself instead of closing down other industries. The commercial industry was limited in 1972, the commercial industry pays a 2% enhancement fee on all money earned to ensure healthy returns, the commercial industry only catches 13% of all kings bound for the Kenai.... need I go on...... don't let the door hit you on the way OUT!

Raoulduke
3084
Points
Raoulduke 03/17/14 - 07:52 pm
3
0
Love of MONEY

If the fishing groups are really concerned about the Kings.They would be preaching of the closure of the fishery completely.Not of reducing the numbers harvested,or the ridiculous notion of catch,and release.Like most things in this fine state.All things are controlled POLITICALLY,and the morality of all Groups are to easily corrupted by MONEY. Which makes it a lying shame.

pengy
258
Points
pengy 03/18/14 - 06:15 am
2
1
im4fisheries, when I

im4fisheries, when I vacationed in Maui I heard the locals say the same thing about Alaskans clogging up "their" beaches. I also heard the same thing from locals in Orlando when I vacationed at Disneyworld. The tourists were "ruining their way of life."

I guess all locals hate it when someone who isn't from there invades their space. I guess we should all stay at home.

kenai-king
255
Points
kenai-king 03/18/14 - 11:17 am
2
1
pengy

It's got nothing to do with the people vacationing here it's got to do with the rude guides on the river. There is way to many and when things don't go the way they want them they even get worse. So again I say good ridden, these fools think they can do this forever. This should have been addressed back in the early 80's.
BYE BYE YOU WON'T BE MISSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

kenai-king
255
Points
kenai-king 03/18/14 - 11:28 am
2
1
SILVERS

Another thing is they should be off the river at the end of August. If they don't enforce something with fishing silvers they will be gone too. Last year I went up river in the end of September and out of 23 boats including mine 20 of them were guides. This is what's going to happen, fish out the Kings and move on to the Silvers.

Back to Top

Spotted

Please Note: You may have disabled JavaScript and/or CSS. Although this news content will be accessible, certain functionality is unavailable.

Skip to News

« back

next »

  • title http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/321268/ http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/321253/ http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/321248/
  • title http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/321243/ http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/321208/ http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/320593/
  • title http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/321173/ http://spotted.peninsulaclarion.com/galleries/321163/
My Gallery

CONTACT US

  • 150 Trading Bay Rd, Kenai, AK 99611
  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS