Although the number of guides operating on the Kenai River has dropped slightly from last year, the river still saw its third highest total of fishing guides register for permits in 2003.
Overall, 375 guides obtained permits from the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation in 2003, down from 383 in 2002. Of those, 339 were registered as fishing guides, while another 36 registered as nonfishing guides mainly rafting and sightseeing. The fishing numbers were down from an all-time high of 348 last year.
The state's permit figures show that guide numbers are holding relatively steady, although the demographics of who actually is guiding seems to be changing a bit.
For one, the numbers suggest that drift guides are becoming more scarce on the river. In 2003, just 20 percent of registered guides were drift guides, the lowest figure ever recorded.
Additionally, the number of non-resident guides also dropped significantly in 2003, down 14 to 78 guides. Overall, nonresident guides made up 21 percent of the overall guide fleet.
Guide numbers are a hot topic of debate during the off-season among both anglers and regulatory agencies. Last winter, at the urging of the Kenai River Special Man-agement Area advisory board, the state issued a moratorium limiting how many guides can operate on the river. However, the state rescinded the moratorium after a legal challenge was brought by a group of Kenai guides and lodge owners.
At that time, the state reached an agreement that said unless a study is done to assess the implications of limiting the guide fleet, no restrictions can be placed on their numbers. The Legislature authorized funding to complete a study, but those funds were vetoed by Gov. Frank Murkowski.
According to Kenai area Alaska State Parks superintendent Chris Degerness, it doesn't look like a study will be done any time soon.
"At this time there are no plans," she said. "There is no money identified."
Guides themselves have been divided on the moratorium issue. Some have argued that the Kenai has indeed become too crowded, and that measures need to be put in place to ensure professional, knowledgeable guides are the only ones operating on the river.
Kenai River Professional Guides Association President Joe Connors is strongly in favor of the guide moratorium. His group is pushing a program which certifies Kenai guides based on a point system. Connors said he wants to see a more professional, streamlined guide fleet operating on the river.
"Professional, that's the way to go," Connors said.
This year was the first year of a program KRPGA hopes will become a model for how the professional guide fleet should be managed.
The association's Master Guides program recognizes guides for having time on the river, participation in community service events, knowledge of the river and other attributes.
Additionally, Connors said the guides association continues to promote its kids and veterans fishing days, as well as participate in the regulatory process at the Board of Fisheries level. Connors said he doesn't think guides are the problem on the river. It's just that the river has a hard time handling so many anglers.
"I think the guides behaved themselves well this season," Connors said, noting that registered guides were responsible for no major accidents or incidents of criminal behavior on the river this summer.
"And we've gotten a lot of good, positive things done," he said.
Connors said he still believes something should be done to curb overall Kenai River guide numbers. But despite there being about the same number of guides on the Kenai in 2003 as 2002, he said he still had a good time out on the water.
"It was a fun year for me," he said.
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