Board may delay catch-and-relase rule for Kenai

Posted: Monday, May 13, 2002

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- The state Board of Fisheries may delay a controversial new catch-and-release rule for the Kenai River's early run of king salmon. But the reprieve would be limited and would only last a year.

The seven-member panel plans to get together by telephone Friday afternoon to discuss the issue.

A yearlong delay would allow the public to digest the rule and weigh in on it, said Dan Coffey of Anchorage, vice chairman of the board and author of the proposal.

Many people who live near the Kenai River didn't get a fair chance to respond to the proposal, he said. The idea developed rapidly and was approved by the board at its February meeting in Anchorage. It was supposed to go into effect this year.

During that meeting, the board decided the Kenai's early-run king fishery would be effectively catch-and-release from June 11-30.

Anglers still would be able to keep the rare king longer than 55 inches.

The board also imposed a ''slot limit'' for the remainder of the early run, barring fishermen from keeping kings between 40 and 55 inches before June 11.

The slot limit was intended to protect the large 7-year-old king salmon so they can spawn.

The catch-and-release rule, in contrast, was an attempt to give guides and sportfishing businesses a break, so midseason closures wouldn't disrupt vacationing anglers and hurt the state's tourist trade.

If the board approves the one-year moratorium, the hiatus would affect only catch and release; the slot limit and other regulations would stay in place, Coffey said.

Word that the board would reconsider its catch-and-release decision startled anglers and guides.

The guides just want the regulations to be predictable, so reconsidering them midseason isn't helping much, said Joe Connors of Sterling, president of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association.

And John Nelson, a Sterling angler who has argued against catch-and-release, said he was puzzled.

''It changes nothing. Even if they put (catch-and-release regulations) off a year, we will feel as strongly about it then as we do now,'' Nelson said.

Ed Dersham of Anchor Point, the board's chairman, said the panel will be wading into new territory when it meets Friday.

''We've never had anything quite like this before, where the season is already under way,'' he said.

Also at the Friday meeting, the board will consider scheduling another meeting to take up saltwater king salmon bag limits in Cook Inlet and Kodiak.



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