Advisory board pans decision on Kenai River guides

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2003

KENAI (AP) -- State officials have modified a proposal by the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board to place a moratorium on new Kenai River sport fishing guide permits.

Marty Rutherford, in her capacity as acting Department of Natural Resources commissioner, ruled the number of guide permits should be capped at last year's level, but new guides could operate in the place of guides who decide not to guide.

The decision was announced at an advisory board meeting Thursday by Kenai area parks superintendent Chris Degernes and did not sit well with the board.

''I'm rather disappointed with this,'' said board member Joe Connors.

Connors, who is also president of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association, said the decision makes it harder to implement measures such as industry training and certification programs that guides themselves have been working toward.

''I don't see any possibility of bringing any of these in at all,'' Connors said. ''It's a free-for-all.''

According to the decision, any of the 348 guides who operated on the Kenai in 2002 are eligible to guide again this year. If guides decide not to renew their permits by April 30, their slots will be given to the first qualified applicant who applies. Permits also can become available if a guide gives up a permit during the season.

Rutherford said in her decision that capping the number of guide permits would not hinder the existing guide business unfairly and would not interfere with Department of Fish and Game jurisdiction.

However, she ruled that the intent of the moratorium was simply to preserve the status quo on the Kenai, not cut guide numbers.

Degernes speculated the decision was made in order to address an existing appeal and any potential lawsuits from those who oppose limits on guides.

Board member Ted Wellman said the idea behind the moratorium was to begin a process for slowly lowering the number of guides.

''The first thing people told me when I got on this board was, 'You've got to do something about the guide problem,''' Wellman said. ''Every time we get close, it gets yanked away from us. It's damn frustrating.''

Board member Robin West urged the board to find out how the Murkowski administration feels about the moratorium.

On Friday, Gov. Frank Murkowski picked Tom Irwin, a former executive with Fairbanks Gold Mining, to head the DNR.

''If the administration is opposed to this, we'll find out really soon,'' West said. ''I'd just recommend patience.''

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