New legislation passed this month will allow commercial sport fishing operations on the Kenai River to replace injured or lost guides, keeping their clients hooks in the water.
The passage of Senate Bill 177 extended a clause requiring commercial sport fish guides across the state to register with the Department of Fish and Game and continue to keep logbooks.
The legislation also picked up a hitchhiker amendment to include a guide replacement policy for the Kenai River Special Management Area.
All fishing guides are required to have a Coast Guard and state license, however, to operate in KRSMA, guides must also pass the week-long Kenai River Academy course.
If an operator loses a guide midseason, they'll be hard-pressed to find a replacement who's taken the course.
The legislation would make it possible under certain circumstances to substitute in a licensed guide who hasn't taken the course midseason.
Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, sponsored SB177 earlier this month to prevent the termination of the ADF&G program, saying, "I feel like it's a valuable program that gives ADF&G good information about the guiding business."
The statewide guide registration and logbook program was due to expire this year if not renewed by the Legislature.
The guide replacement policy was added onto the legislation later by Bert Stedman, R-Sitka.
"I agreed to it because it makes sense," Meyer said.
Meyer explained that if an operator can't replace a guide it reflects poorly on the area if they can't get their clients on the water.
"Some of these guides are booked solid all summer and you have people flying in from all over world to fish there," Meyer said.
He noted, too, the potential for impact to businesses saying, "These guides, they're small business owners and they make their money in the summer."
The local guiding industry is supportive of the legislation.
"This is the stuff we've been looking for," said Monte Roberts, President of the Kenai River Professional Guiding Association.
He said he was glad to see both the renewal of the logbook program and the licensing, but that the replacement policy came as somewhat of a surprise.
"It flew through the radar," he said.
James King, director of the Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, also noted the late-blooming legislation.
"This is one of those things that happened late in the session and it's often difficult to get perfect language when that happens," he said.
King is concerned the current legislation doesn't provide "tight" enough definitions for the circumstances under which DPOR can issue a waiver.
"We're sympathetic to the intent of the language but our concerns is that it leaves things pretty wide open and needs further defining on what are the unanticipated circumstances," King said.
That's something he hopes to work on this summer and fall, saying, "We've been working with some of the guides and legislators and I think we can work towards getting a better definition of the intent of the legislation."
This is not the first time the guide replacement question has come up.
In the fall of 2008, King rejected a proposal endorsed by the KRSMA Advisory Board to create a replacement policy, citing legal concerns, saying that by doing so could undermine the academy.
"Guiding on the Kenai River is a specialized occupation and we need to make it a professional profession," he said.
Dante Petri can be reached at email@example.com
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