Subsistence ruling worries Kenai refuge manager

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Fearing some Kenai Peninsula residents might abuse subsistence rules to catch trout or steelhead, the manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge wants to close all subsistence fishing in refuge waters.

Although there are no known subsistence fisheries within the refuge, federal regulations allow people who are subsistence fishing for species such as whitefish, lamprey, longnose suckers and northern pike to keep accidentally caught rainbow trout or steelhead.

The incidental catch has been allowed for years and has never caused a problem, but Kenai refuge manager Robin West said the emergency closure is needed because subsistence fishing was recently opened to all 50,000 Peninsula residents.

He sent a letter to the Federal Subsistence Board on May 19 asking for the closure within refuge waters. West said the action would affect 266 miles of streams within the Kenai River watershed, 231 miles of other streams and more than 800 lakes in the refuge. Some of the more popular fishing spots include the Russian River and Skilak Lake.

''We've tried not to broadcast this because we don't want to create a problem,'' West said. ''But this is a loophole that I'm not sure the board knew it was opening.''

Peggy Fox, assistant regional director for subsistence with the U.S. Fish and Service, said that it's no loophole, it's just something the board allowed. Since the May 4 decision by the Federal Subsistence Board to designate the entire Kenai Peninsula as a rural subsistence area, more people can take advantage of the incidental catch provision.

Few people fish for whitefish, lampreys, longnose suckers or northern pike on the Peninsula, according to Fox, but pike and whitefish are traditionally important subsistence fish when salmon runs are weak, particularly in the Interior.

West said he fears that some people might pretend to be fishing for the other species with a net so they can keep steelhead or rainbow trout. He also fears that more salmon could be injured or killed in subsistence gill nets, even though the rules don't allow people to keep the salmon.

According to West, the regulations read: ''If you take rainbow trout and steelhead trout incidentally in other subsistence net fisheries or through the ice you may retain them'' for subsistence use.

Dave Allen, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a member of the Federal Subsistence Board, is weighing the refuge's petition, Fox said. He will decide soon whether to forward it to the full board and whether the board needs to call an emergency meeting to take up the matter.

Fox said one potential solution is to restrict the use of gill nets, which are the most likely to accidentally snag steelhead and rainbow trout.

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