Research project begun to examine boater behavior

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A research project began Saturday to examine boater behavior on the Kenai River.

Social scientists will be using Global Positioning System devices -- the same devices used to track bears and halibut -- plus video cameras placed near key fishing holes and volunteers armed with surveys at lower river boat launches.

The project aims to find out how boaters use the river.

A questionnaire asks fishermen if they are enjoying themselves, if they feel the river is crowded and if other boaters are behaving civilly. It also asks participants to rank possible solutions to overcrowding, such as increasing nonmotorized fishing days, limiting anglers through a permit system and restricting the number of guides.

The research is being conducted by the State Division of Parks, with help from Greg Brown, an associate professor of environmental policy at Alaska Pacific University.

The monitoring, from June through July, is being done on a shoestring budget, said Chris Degernes, parks superintendent on the Kenai Peninsula. It will cost about $5,000, with most of the money being spent on the GPS units.

Fishing guides say the study asks leading questions.

But backers say the project could clarify whether the river has become too commercialized.

''My view is you're never going to solve problems by avoiding getting the data. You can't hide your head under a rock about this kind of stuff,'' said Ted Wellman, chairman of the Kenai River Special Management Area advisory board, which influences the river's management.

Joe Connors, president of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association, said he doesn't mind data collection, as long as it is done without bias. ''It's the question of what you're going to do with it,'' he said. ''I just see this as skewed against guiding and against power boats.''

The questions are similar to those asked in a larger scale study done in 1992, Wellman said. It may help researchers determine if attitudes have changed since.

Boater surveys are commonly used to help manage recreational areas, Brown said. But using GPS devices to map angler traffic on a major sportfishing river is a new twist. It could be a first, he said.

''It's going to be interesting to see how people react to participating in the study,'' he said. ''It's easy to answer questions about your recreational experience, but I'm unsure how people will react to having a GPS on their boat.''

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