The debate over how the state should manage early-run king salmon on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers left the Kenai Peninsula on Sunday, following a flurry of testimony before a special meeting of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
Now the talk moves to Anchorage, where the Alaska Board of Fisheries will hold its regular meeting on statewide fisheries issues. The early-run chinook issue is just one of many the board will take up at its meeting, which also will deal with statewide dungeoness crab, shrimp, miscellaneous shellfish (except Southeast and Yakutat) and supplemental issues.
Sunday's meeting of the local advisory committee was proposed by Board of Fish Chair Ed Dersham, who said he wanted to ensure area people -- who may not be able to attend the Anchorage meeting -- are heard by the board.
His solution was to have the committee meet in Kenai, while Board of Fish members listened from Anchorage. In addition to Dersham, board members Mel Morris, Rupe Andrews, John Jensen, Larry Engel and Art Nelson listened to testimony via teleconference.
Dersham said at the time that he believes the issue is one that's too important not to let local people have their say.
"I want to be able to hear from as many people as possible," Dersham said earlier this month.
At stake is the future management of the May-June early-run of Kenai River king salmon. At last year's Board of Fish meeting, the board voted to institute mandatory catch-and-release fishing for Kenai kings measuring from 40 to 54 inches in length from the beginning of the season through June 10. Additionally, the board said anglers must release all kings less than 55 inches in length caught from June 11 until July 1.
At the time, the board claimed the new regulations would provide for a more stable and predictable fishery. However, those regulations didn't sit well with some area sportfishers, who claimed catch-and-release fishing went counter to local priorities. As a result, the regulations were delayed, and the issue was placed on the agenda of this week's meeting.
In the time since the last board meeting, the Kenai-Soldotna advisory committee has spent the majority of its time debating how best to manage the early run. Earlier this month, the committee finalized its recommendations, which included allowing 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 less than 45 inches 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.
Testimony on Sunday was split between those who believe the local advisory committee is essentially on the right track with its recommendations, and those who believe the committee is trying to restrict fishing guides based on the priorities of a vocal minority of area fishers.
Thirty-five members of the public chose to speak at Sunday's meeting. The Board of Fisheries will now take those public comments to use in making a final decision on what shape Kenai and Kasilof rivers' regulations should take. That decision likely will come following the conclusion of the board meeting March 27.
The following is a partial list of comments heard during Sunday's testimony:
Mark Glassmaker, Sterling: "I urge you to consider the essential role guided sportfishing has on our economy. ... This income is used to support families and the overall community in general."
Greg Brush, Soldotna: "Please stay focused on the data and the facts. ... Take (the advisory committee recommendations) with a grain of salt. Maybe two grains of salt."
Billie Hardy, Soldotna: "Sportfishing on the Kenai River is the economic lifeblood on the Kenai Peninsula for over three months of the year. ... The income generated allows many of us to live here year-round in the state we love."
John McCombs, Ninilchik: "Mortal-ity on hook and release has been downplayed and has been totally, culturally rejected."
Doug Blossom, Clam Gulch: "Instead of fighting over what's left of the king run, we should start enhancing the king run. ... You'll have enough fish for everybody."
Herman Fandel, Kenai: "Alaska tourism's biggest attraction is sportfishing."
Irene Fandel, Kenai: "When the guests do not fish, they just do not come."
Chris Garcia, Kenai: "I fully, 100 percent believe catch-and-release should be outlawed completely. ... I think this hook-and-release crap has got to stop."
Nels Anderson, Soldotna: "The uniqueness of the Kenai is not the number of the fish, it's the size of the fish."
Joe Hardy, Soldotna: "I just don't believe anyone is deprived from eating a fish. ... The Kenai belongs to all people in this state and all anglers, guided and nonguided."
Warren Hoflich, Soldotna: "Let everyone keep one king and keep the first one he catches. No catch and release."
Mike Frost, Soldotna: "If you don't own a boat, you have two options: you fish with a buddy or you fish with a guide."
Ray DeBardelabon, Soldotna: "I think we need to give these (existing) management plans a chance. ... We just need to see what the data produces in the next couple years."
Floyd Heimbuch, Soldotna: "It's difficult for me to see the difference between catch-and-release and bullfights."
Dwight Kramer, Kenai: "The testimony we've taken on the committee has been unanimously against catch-and-release."
Tyland Vanlier, Soldotna: "The more restrictions, the more people are going to start doing things, basically, illegally."
Glenn Arundell, Kenai: "We need to limit the number of guides on the river and limit their hours, also. ... Let's give the Kenai River back to the people of Alaska."
Dyer VanDevere, Kasilof: "It's time to decide in the favor of the residents; it's time to decide in the favor of the fish."
Jill Skidmore, Soldotna: "I, and other local residents who are physically unable to use our own boats, access the river with the help of guides. ... I just want equal treatment for all residents."
Will Josey, Sterling: "Establish the early run as resident only until minimum escapement is met."
Mel Erickson, Soldotna: "Why should a guided resident have less opportunity than a nonresident, nonguided angler? ... The residents should not be punished just because they use a guide."
Reubin Payne, Soldotna: "Please make choices based on science, not prejudice."
Terry Smith, Soldotna: "I think (the committee) did a very good job on a very difficult issue."
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