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Finding a possible fix: Proposal recommends ways to ease crowding on the river

Voices Of The Peninsula

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2006

During the past 25-plus years there has been a continuous and growing public complaint that the lower Kenai River is too crowded with boats, and that there are too many guides.

In 2004, the Alaska Board of Fisheries determined that Mondays were for nonguided drift boats only. Mondays are the only serene days on the Kenai River, especially in July.

In the winter of 2004-05, the Kenai River Working Group (KRWG), representing guides, river business owners, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Parks, Law, public, sportfishers, KRSMA board, et al, met for several months in one- and two-day-long meetings to deliberate its charter of “determining a fair and legal way to limit the number of guides,” ostensibly to reduce boat crowding on the river. Many products emanated from the KRWG, but it failed in its charter.

On July 19-22, 2005, a Corps of Engineers research group conducted a boat wake study on the lower river for four 12-hour days, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at five popular king salmon fishing holes. All boats passing the study stations were counted (and recounted), whether moving up or downstream.

Since the study was conducted Tuesday through Friday, essentially all boats counted were power boats. Complete study results are expected this summer. However, the raw boat count data were very enlightening, regarding the long-standing public perception of boat crowding, especially in July.

Because many boats continually fish and refish the same salmon hole, while other boats are moving up and downstream searching for other (better?) fishing areas, the apparent number of boats is three to four times higher than the actual total number of boats on the river.

Because of this powerboat traffic, for most of July, the river looks more like a crowded, storm-tossed lake than a flowing river.

I have a proposed solution to boat crowding — especially in July.

Beginning in 2008, add one day per week in July to be drift boats only and make both Mondays and the second drift-only day accessible to all fishers, recreators and guides, with no limits on what hours during the day guides can guide clients. Exceptions to drift-only would be for state agency powerboats and river island residents for transportation only to and from the mainland.

If this experiment were successful, then one additional drift-only day per week would be added each successive year until July was drift-only in 2013.

The benefits would:

1) If anchoring in king salmon holes (as now) is not allowed, essentially eliminate boat crowding;

2) Essentially eliminate boat wakes, bank undercutting and habitat loss above tidewater;

3) Facilitate law enforcement;

4) Improved boating safety;

5) Essentially eliminate river hydrocarbon pollution, now estimated at 10,000 gallons of gasoline each July;

6) Allow guides to guide clients 24/7, which could result in more business, and save money on gas;

7) Possibly create a new summer business for young people moving boats, trailers and-or vehicles to various launch sites;

8) Probably negate most concerns for rental boats;

9) Create a more peaceful place to recreate or fish, with less noise, fewer wakes and less water turbulence, making the in-river spawning beds more efficient (and maybe a blessing for the fish, too?); and

10) Eliminate the reason to limit the number of guides on the lower river, ending a 25-year controversy.

Drift-only disadvantages:

1) More boat take-out sites, riverside toilets and vehicle parking areas would be required;

2) Some guides and nonguides would have to procure or rent drift boats;

3) Some guides and other people (like me) may not be physically fit or skilled enough to fish the Kenai River in a drift boat;

4) Fishing tidewater on the lower river may require new fishing methods on selected days and hours;

5) More boat trip planning and guide-client coordination would be required; and

6) Boat movement upstream would be extremely limited.

In summary, limiting guides to half their current number (175 vs 350) will not solve current or future powerboat crowding problems. Any void created by reducing the number of guides would be quickly filled by private powerboats.

A drift fishery does not allow boats to congregate at or repeatedly fish-refish known salmon holes-runs, which would eliminate boat crowding, while solving many other identified river problems and-or concerns, and the drift fishery long-term benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, and I believe is a “fair and legal way” to regulate fishing and recreational access to the Kenai River, for all concerned, far into the future.

Richard Hahn is a retired engineer, sportfisherman and member of the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board. He lives in Soldotna.



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