A proposal before the Alaska Board of Fisheries that would limit the early-run king salmon fishery on the Kenai River is generating a king-sized debate over how the resource should be managed.
The measure, which is on the agenda at the board's current two-week meeting in Anchorage, would limit the river's king salmon fishery to catch and release only during the months of May and June. The proposal would allow trophy king salmon measuring 55 inches or more in length to be kept and would also allow bait to be used. Currently, bait is allowed only when the early run of king salmon is projected to reach 14,000 fish.
The proposal came about through the Board of Fisheries committee process during the past week. Committees met to discuss the recommendations of the various advisory committees and user groups, and emerged with proposals to alter existing fishing regulations.
Opinions vary on how this measure will affect the fishery.
Brett Huber, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, thinks the proposal will allow fishers greater opportunities to catch early-run kings.
"The early run has been under some sort of in-river restrictions nine of the last 10 years," Huber said.
"Perhaps it's time to treat this like other trophy fisheries, like we do with rainbow trout. (The proposal) is a great way to provide added dependability and stability to the run," he said.
Huber said his organization supports the proposal and that he's excited about the measure's chances of being adopted.
Soldotna sport fishing enthusiast John Nelson is not as enthusiastic about the proposal. He said he thinks the proposal is a thinly veiled attempt by guides to corner the market on early-run kings.
"If the guides want to voluntarily go to catch-and-release, they can do that. They're not concerned with the resource. It's all just smoke and mirrors, designed to take fish off of locals' dinner tables," he said.
Nelson said the way the early run is currently managed is sufficient to ensure the stability of future salmon returns.
"When commercial fishermen are determined to be impacting the run, they are restricted. If the in-river fishery is hurting the run, (the Fish Board) can restrict that, too. (Guides) don't need this (proposal) to do that," he said.
Brent Johnson, chairman of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said the time to challenge this proposal is now.
"People who want to make this not happen should get a bunch of people and go up there and tell the board what they think," he said Thursday while taking a break from attending the meetings.
Nelson also thinks the public should get involved to stop the board from acting on this proposal.
"People should call up there and tell them what they think," he said.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries is meeting through Wednesday. The board is expected to consider the new proposal within the next couple of days.
If the measure is adopted, the new regulations will go into effect this spring.
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