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Growing pains mark sport fish industry

Posted: Saturday, April 22, 2000

Sport fishing and associated businesses such as bed and breakfasts and cafes, have seen explosive growth in recent years. According to the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council, visitors spent $13 million for lodging and services in 1987. That amount grew to more than $52 million in 1997 -- a four-fold increase.

Like any young industry, however, the sport fishing business is experiencing some growing pains. In recent years, proposals have appeared to impose special restrictions on nonresidents and to limit and regulate the proliferation of guides.

According to the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, the number of registered guides grew from 207 in 1982 to an all-time high of 325 in 1998 -- a 57 percent increase. Vessels registered for commercial sport fishing grew from 179 in 1982 to 436 in 1998 -- an increase of more than 158 percent.

This year, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to limit the peninsula's halibut fishery with individual fishing quotas. Proposals to limit the number of guides working the Kenai River have become an annual event. This year, the Alaska Board of Fisheries voted to curb sport anglers' take of silver salmon.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the number of visitors, most of whom are presumed by the department to be anglers, to the Kenai Peninsula doubled in the last decade.

Visitor numbers grew from fewer than 100,000 in 1985, to more than 165,000 by 1993. Visitor numbers remained fairly stable at about 100,000 until 1989 when they began to soar and the stampede of visitors, most of them Alaskans according to the department, shows no sign of leveling off. According to Fish and Game, 1998 angler effort in Southcentral, mostly the Kenai, was 33.8 percent of the statewide total.

Angler effort on the Kenai River during the past 20 years more than doubled from about 160,000 days in 1977. The increased use has made environmental concerns on the Kenai a hot topic. Problems, such as bank erosion and loss of spawning habitat, are probably here to stay -- or at least for as long as there are fish in the river.

In 1961, nonresidents bought 41,120 fishing licenses; 74 percent of the statewide total of fishing licenses sold. Resident anglers accounted for only 26 percent of fishing license sales that year.

Twenty years later, nonresidents still outpolled Alaskans in fishing license sales by a margin of 61 percent nonresident licenses to 39 percent resident licenses. But in 1990, a change occurred. For the first time, resident fishing license sales outstripped nonresident license sales by 2,565 licenses.

A slim margin of less than 1 percent of the 362,993 total licenses sold, but a majority nonetheless and for the first time, at that. Nonresidents took the lead, briefly, in 1991 also by less than 1 percent, but in 1992 resident license sales surged ahead by 5 percent and never looked back.



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