Cohoe resident Dennis Randa has a proposal that’s bound to be controversial.
Randa is a long-time fishing guide who I’ve known since the 1980s. He has years of experience fishing the Kenai, from both a power and drift boat, and has always had a strong urge to “do what’s right” for fish and fish habitat. A sponge for anything “fishy,” he not only knows about fish and fish habitat, but also the ins and outs of the many fishing issues.
When the Alaska Board of Fisheries meets early next year to consider Upper Cook Inlet Finfish regulations, one idea they’ll be considering will be Randa’s. His Proposal 220 would prohibit sport fishing for king salmon every other mile in the 10 miles of the Kenai River between Eagle Rock and the Soldotna bridge.
If you fish for kings on the lower Kenai, that last sentence got your attention. That part of the river contains many popular fishing holes, among them Porters, Airplane, Big Eddy, The Pillars and Slide Hole.
When I first read this proposal, the idea of losing half of the most popular holes on the Kenai certainly got me to thinking. At times the existing crowding is intolerable. How would it feel if I couldn’t fish at my favorite hole, and if everyone is forced to crowd into the remaining few? But then I remembered. I haven’t fished for kings in the Kenai for two years, the runs have been so poor. To me, as well as to many others, closing down five or six miles of river would make no difference at all.
Randa’s concerns are genuine. He didn’t write this proposal just to rile up his fellow fishing guides, which it’s certain to do. It doesn’t say so, but it has nothing to do with the current, state-wide, poor runs of king salmon, but addresses only issues that have impacted the Kenai River since the 1980s.
At issue, his proposal states: “The Kenai River is being managed by the Alaska Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (Parks) as a playground for humans to fish and play in their watercraft without any consideration for the impacts of these activities upon the Chinook salmon resource.”
It goes on to say that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is either ignoring or is unaware of issues affecting the Kenai’s king salmon, including sound generated by outboards, stresses from boats constantly passing over the fish and hooks being dragged through the fish as they rest and prepare for spawning.
Studies have shown that king salmon spawn throughout the lower Kenai, at least as far downstream as Beaver Creek. Randa points out that there are no areas for protecting the spawning efforts of main-stem spawners, whether “early” run — before July 1 — or “late” run — after July 1. Data from studies show that about 20 percent of the early-run kings are main-stem spawners. He maintains that early-entry, main-stem spawning kings have essentially been eliminated by the current management approach.
Randa makes some valid points. If a king salmon swims up the Kenai as far as, say, Big Eddy Hole, and it’s determined to spawn there, good luck to it. Whether it arrives in May, June or July, odds are good that it will end up in a fish box.
Another factor that no doubt impacts king salmon spawning behavior to some degree is the sound of engine exhaust. Randa’s proposal states, “The elimination of two stroke motors [from the Kenai River] has done nothing to address this ‘noise’ pollution. A review of scientific studies of sonic and sound barrage upon our planet’s creatures reveals the stress of sound can be disruptive and devastating, especially on marine environments.”
Finally, Randa maintains that the genetic diversity of the Kenai king salmon, especially the main stem component, is not being preserved.
“The largest salmon are being taken off of their spawning areas, thus minimizing, if not eliminating, the potential for main-stem production of these large fish.”
Proposal 220 would “increase the productivity of the main stem Kenai Chinook salmon below Soldotna by allowing the salmon to have sanctuary areas where they can conduct their spawning activities in a more natural environment where angling for Chinook would not be allowed. It will also protect the genetic diversity of the resource.”
Randa’s statement that there is no sanctuary for kings that spawn in the Kenai River isn’t just conjecture. It’s inarguable. I would hope that the Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game consider this point and act accordingly.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.