Kenai River guides face regulations

Working group forwarding 9-point plan to toughen guiding restrictions to Department of Law

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005

Kenai River Working Group members on Thursday agreed on a nine-point plan to increase requirements for Kenai River sport fishing guides.

The plan, which includes a number of stipulations aimed at increasing the level of professionalism among the Kenai's guide fleet, will now be forwarded to the Alaska Department of Law to be put into draft regulation form.

"It's going to be a first draft of regulations based on the nine points," said working group member John Baker of the Department of Law.

The working group was created last year by Gov. Murkowski and tasked with finding ways to improve sport fishing on the Kenai, an often-crowded river that's home to large runs of sockeye and chinook salmon. Although originally called upon to find ways to manage the guide industry, the group was also given authority to look at any areas of river management that might need to be improved.

The nine points agreed upon by the group would change regulations to say that in order to receive and hold an Alaska State Parks permit to guide on the river, Kenai guides must submit to drug testing, have legally fished in Alaska for at least two years, hold a current driver's license or identification card, have no felony convictions in the past five years, attend the Kenai River Guide Academy, attend an orientation course once every three years, be 18 years or older, adhere to all 38 State Park permit stipulations and pay $750 per year for a three-year permit. The working group also included a provision that guides not have any substantial river violations in the past five years, although the specifics of that point have yet to be finalized.

Current only require that guides must have a State Parks commercial use permit and meet safety training and insurance requirements. The current one-year permit fee is $500 per year, and permits are issued on a year-by-year basis.

Not everyone who attended Thursday's meeting of the working group was thrilled about the idea of increasing requirements for Kenai guides. River guide Dave Richards said most of the points are simply putting more pressure on small business owners already forced to compete in a demanding market.

"What I hear is more and more regulation," Richards said. "You guys are killing me."

Richards said that instead of putting more regulations on guides who operate lawfully, the working group should look at going after people who seem to cause problems.

"If there's a problem with guys on the river, deal with them," Richards said.

Working group member Kirk Hoessle countered Richards' argument by saying that if guides are forced to adhere to more rigorous standards, it could actually increase the amount of money individual guides bring in.

"There is an economic side of this that should benefit (guides)," Hoessle said.

Group member Joe Connors also pointed out that because the working group is trying to solve Kenai River crowding issues, the Alaska Board of Fisheries has not imposed any restrictions to guides' hours of operation.

"The Board of Fish recognized that and did not penalize us," Connors said.

Despite the fact that guides would have to follow more rigorous standards if the new regulations are adopted, at least one working group member expressed concern that the group isn't going far enough to address the crowding issue.

"How about the issue of limiting guides?" asked group member Dwight Kramer.

Kramer pointed out that the group was originally created when a previous effort to limit the number of Kenai guides failed to stand up to a court challenge. He said he believes the purpose of the group should be to cut guide numbers.

"I'm kind of confused about spending a whole winter here and not really tackling the issue," Kramer said.

Other group members, however, said guide limits will never be imposed until smaller steps are taken to improve the fishery and more scientific data is gathered to show there really is a crowding issue.

"We can't limit guides unless we get all this information," group member Andy Szczesny said.

John Baker told the group the points adopted Thursday are simply a way to move forward and make small — but meaningful — improvements to the fishery.

"Where we're at in the next month or two is implementing the short-term fix," Baker said.

Baker said he plans to come back to the group's April 11 meeting with a draft of the proposed regulation changes. If the group still feels like the rules are a good idea, the process of gathering public comment will begin. It's unlikely any new regulations will take effect until 2006.

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