One of the main gripes of Kenai River anglers has historically been that regulations are too complex. On Thursday, the Alaska Board of Fisheries attempted to ease those concerns by streamlining rules for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.
Under regulations adopted unanimously by the board at meetings in Anchorage, Kenai River regulations for Dollies and rainbows are now essentially the same for both species.
Under rules in place until now, regulations for Dollies and rainbows varied widely between the species and location in the river. Several changes adopted by the board essentially eliminate distinctions between the species and regulate both fisheries the same.
The regulations adopted call for a harvest limit of one rainbow and one Dolly per day with a maximum size limit of 18 inches. Above the lake, the size limit drops to 16 inches with one fish allowed to be retained each day.
The only difference between Dollies and rainbows on the Kenai River under the new plan is that rainbows cannot be retained between May 1 and June 11.
In addition to clarifying things, the new regulations will allow harvest of rainbows above Skilak Lake, an area where rainbows previously could not be kept.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Larry Marsh told the board that allowing harvest of rainbows would not hurt the fish population in the area, as it's believed rainbows are healthy throughout the river.
"We feel the proposal would be conducive to maintaining the sustainability of the stocks," Marsh said.
Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee Chair Dwight Kramer said he thinks the new rules will make trout and Dolly regulations easier for anglers to understand.
"That's what the target was, to simplify the regulations," Kramer said.
Thursday's board meeting was tamer than Wednesday's session, when participants scrambled to negotiate changes made to Cook Inlet commercial fisheries. On Thursday, the board dealt with a number of proposals that were fairly noncontroversial in nature, speeding the process along.
However, two proposals dealing with the Kenai and Kasilof River personal-use fisheries did bring some debate as well as humor to the board process.
With little comment, the board unanimously voted down a proposal that would tie the personal-use fishery to the abundance of sockeye salmon swimming into the rivers. The proposal would have directed the department to allow for an additional 15 fish per household when the Kenai is expected to exceed its in-river escapement goal.
After taking a short break, the board took up a seemingly benign proposal to allow the harvest of flounder in the Kenai personal-use fishery.
Marsh and fellow biologist Tom Vania drew laughter during Fish and Game's comment period with their brief summary of the department's stance on allowing fishers to harvest flounder which has not traditionally been prized by salmon fishers.
"The proposal will establish a harvest of flounder," Marsh said.
As the board waited for further information, Marsh re-mained silent.
"That's all we want to say at this time," Vania deadpanned.
As the board prepared to vote to allow flounders to be harvested in the Kenai personal-use fishery, board member Dr. Fred Bouse cautioned that the move could send a mixed message to the public.
"This is the kind of proposal that allows us to make headlines," Bouse said.
Bouse said he's worried the board's decision not to tie the personal-use fishery to abundance could potentially anger personal-use fishers from urban areas. That, combined with the decision to allow a flounder harvest, could lead to negative public perception, he said, and even speculated on a possible newspaper headline.
"Board refuses salmon to households in the valley, gives them flounder instead," he suggested a headline might read.
Despite Bouse's concerns about public perception, the board unanimously approved the flounder proposal. That means Kenai River personal-use anglers scooping up flounder while fishing for salmon can now retain up to 10 of the rough-skinned flatfish per year, per household if they choose to.
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