The Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee finally agreed Monday on what recommendations it will make to the Alaska Board of Fisheries regarding early-run Kenai River king salmon.
The committee added two recommendations Monday to five points already agreed on at last week's meeting. Last week, the committee voted to recommend single-hook, no-bait fishing on the Kenai from Jan. 1 through June 30 (or until escapement goals are met); only one king salmon from the Kenai may be retained from Jan. 1 through June 30; guided anglers be limited to the hours of 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.; if escapement is estimated at falling between 7,200 and 14,400 fish, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is to institute retention of fish measuring more than 55 inches in length only; and a provision to not allow catch-and-release fishing as a management tool for biologists.
To those points, the committee decided Monday to recommend further restrictions on the middle part of the river. Acting on a motion by Ken Tarbox, the committee passed a provision calling for no-bait, single-hook fishing above the Soldotna bridge from July 1 through 31 unless the early run escapement of kings exceeds 14,400 fish. The motion also extends existing sanctuary area closures on the river until July 20 when early-run escapement is below 14,400 fish.
Tarbox said the measure was included as a way to protect early-run kings that spawn in the river, while still providing a harvest opportunity for local residents.
"It's an allocatively neutral proposal," Tarbox said, pointing out all user groups would be affected equally under the proposed rules.
"One of the least painful ways to reduce exploitation is to go to no bait," he said.
Fish and Game biologists told the committee they believe exploitation rates do need to be cut on the early run. However, they gave the committee little input as to how far new restrictions should go toward limiting harvest.
"We think a precautionary perspective or approach above the Soldotna bridge is a prudent move," said area biologist Mark Gamblin.
However, Gamblin stopped short of endorsing the proposed regulations, citing a lack of evidence to either support or oppose the regulation.
Board member Tom Corr said he favored the proposal as a way to protect early-run kings that are getting ready to spawn, while at the same time allowing dedicated anglers a chance to catch a fish.
"I can catch a fish with a plug, I don't know about you guys," Corr said, arguing that no-bait would not ruin the midriver fishery.
However, board member Dwight Kramer said he believes the provision will simply send midriver anglers further down river, exacerbating an already serious crowding problem.
"You're going to shove everybody to the lower river," Kramer said.
In the end, the committee voted to include the restrictions in its recommendation to the board.
Additionally, the committee looked at the issue of crowding on the Kasilof River caused by anglers leaving the Kenai. In an effort to reduce that problem, the committee passed a recommendation that would change the daily and seasonal bag limits on the Kasilof.
Committee member John Nelson proposed a measure to restrict the Kasilof to two kings per year for non-Alaska residents, with only one of those kings able to be retained before July 1. Alaska residents would still be allowed three Kasilof kings, but only two could be caught before July 1. Nelson's proposal also calls for anglers to stop fishing once their one king is landed. Additionally, anglers would be limited to using single hooks.
Nelson said the regulation change would reduce pressure on the Kasilof because anglers would no longer be allowed to continue fishing after catching a king. The motion passed by a vote of 7-2, with Kramer and Corr voting against.
One additional recommendation was passed Monday night, a proposal by Corr to allow limited motorized boat traffic on the Kasilof. He said the area downstream from Trujillo's pullout to the last pullout on the Kasilof should be open to electric motors because tidal forces make rowing that section of the river extremely difficult. The committee passed the measure unanimously.
All recommendations will now be forwarded to the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Gamblin said biologists will review the proposals, analyze potential impacts on the rivers and return that information to the committee. The committee can then modify or stick with its recommendations to the board. The Board of Fish will then address any proposals at its March meeting in Anchorage.
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