Despite a marathon meeting Thursday, the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game advisory committee failed to agree on what recommendations it will make to the Alaska Board of Fisheries regarding management of early-run Kenai River king salmon.
The committee spent five hours wrestling with the contentious subject but only agreed that management of the run should largely return to the way things were before the Board of Fish met in February of last year.
That's when the board implemented regulations to limit the Kenai's fishery in May and June to catch and release for all kings measuring from 40 to 54 inches in length. That decision was vehemently opposed by local fishers who said consumptive use fishing should take priority over catch and release.
That opposition caused the Board of Fish to schedule a special meeting in March to reevaluate the issue, a decision which led the local advisory committee into Thursday's discussions about what recommendations to make to the board.
The committee Thursday voted to recommend the Board of Fisheries allow single hook, no-bait fishing on the Kenai from Jan. 1 through June 30; an option to "step-down" the fishery to retention of kings measuring 55 inches or more if escapement goals are not being met adequately; limiting anglers to one king from the Kenai through June 30; limiting guided anglers to the hours of 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. in May and June; and the option to close the fishery entirely if minimum escapement goals are not met.
However, the committee felt that more provisions were needed and further discussion was warranted on the subject before sending anything to the Board of Fish. Therefore, a special meeting has been scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture building.
Discussion Thursday was often heated, with committee members arguing over a variety of issues, including the impact fishing guides have on the river, to what extent errors by the Department of Fish and Game play in the management of fish stocks and how to best protect large, "five-ocean" kings. However, the committee generally agreed upon the provisions that were passed.
But the provision to limit guided anglers seemed to catch at least one committee member off guard. Joe Haynes, who supported the other recommendations the committee passed, said he didn't support limiting guide hours in May and June because there simply is no need. Crowding due to guides in the early season is simply not a problem, he said, and there's no reason why guide hours should be cut.
"It's not a crowding issue. It's an issue of whether people think they can catch fish," Haynes said, pointing out that the majority of anglers wait until the larger run of kings in July to begin fishing.
Committee vice chair Porter Pollard proposed the recommendation. He said the issue is one of nonresidents taking a disproportionate amount of fish and fishing time on the river.
"I don't buy into that," Pollard told the committee. "It's a crowding issue."
Haynes said Pollard's assessment of the situation was untrue. He argued locals don't fish the early run because the fishing isn't as good -- not because guides are on the river.
"(Locals) have all the time in the world to go fishing and they'd rather sit around and complain about it than go," Haynes said. "It's a joke."
He said committee members were confusing the problem of crowding in July with management of kings in the early run, and he expressed frustration that guides were being forced to take the brunt of the blame for problems on the river.
"Ninety percent of (crowding) is in July. It's not in May and June," Haynes said. "I think people are having a very closed mind."
Committee member Tom Corr agreed that the recommendation wasn't needed.
"What this is doing is keeping me from doing as good a job as I can do," Corr, also a guide, told the committee.
Despite arguments against the recommendation, the committee voted 7-4 to recommend the guided angler limitations.
Following that discussion, Corr proposed an additional provision to restrict anglers fishing above the Soldotna bridge, but because of the lateness of the hour, the committee voted to table the motion.
Although several recommendations did pass, the committee still has yet to formalize them and forward them to the Board of Fish. That means those recommendations won't officially be made until after Monday's meeting. It is open to the public.
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