Unfettered growth of guide industry destroying balance between user groups

Alaska anglers being displaced

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

Dear candidates for public office and the Board of Fisheries,

The Kenai River Property Owners Association, an organization dedicated to preservation of the Kenai River, requests your help in resolving the decades-old problem with commercial sportfishing on the Kenai River. The current debate over catch-and-release fishing for the early-run of king salmon spotlights problems that have been developing for 20 years -- the displacement of resident anglers by the commercial sportfishing industry that caters almost exclusively to nonresident anglers. Simply stated, there are too many commercial sportfishing guides operating on the Kenai River and other salmon producing waters on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Kenai River is large enough to reasonably accommodate all user groups, but the unfettered growth of the commercial sportfishing industry has destroyed the balance between user groups and placed the rights of Alaska anglers in jeopardy. If present trends are allowed to continue, the right of Alaska residents to harvest salmon for the table will be lost entirely.

Despite the efforts of many people, including some within the guide community, the problem has gotten progressively worse in the last 10 years with the following adverse effects:

Displacement of resident anglers due to overcrowding, excessive boat wakes and aggressive fishing tactics of guides. On a typical day, 75 percent or more of the boats crowding the lower Kenai River are large powered guide boats making it difficult and uncomfortable for most noncommercial anglers.

Loss of opportunity for residents, particularly families with children, to participate in the fishery. Fewer resident licenses are being purchased and fewer families are using the Kenai for recreation.

Loss of the Alaska lifestyle of catching fish to feed your family. Many Alaskans have stopped fishing the Kenai River for salmon for the table.

Bank erosion through excessive boat traffic by heavily loaded power boats in erosion prone sections of the river. Many residents, including guides with businesses on the river, have been forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to control erosion caused by heavy boat wakes.

Habitat destruction due to boat wakes. While studies are still pending, habitat damage due to boat wakes is evident in several sections of the river.

Dispro-portionate impact on the resource. Ninety percent of early-run and 60 percent of late-run king salmon are taken by guides, and the percentages are increasing.

Adverse impacts on king salmon returns. The early run of kings repeatedly has been closed for inadequate escapement even though other systems without the large number of guides have remained open.

Increasing nonresident harvest at the expense of Alaskans seeking to catch salmon for the table. Catch rates show unguided anglers are having a harder time getting fish while catch rates for guides are increasing.

Making it difficult for professional guides to earn a living and provide clients with a quality experience. Uncontrolled competition encourages unscrupulous guides to engage in aggressive fishing tactics that infringe on the rights of residents and cause conflicts that destroy the quality of the fishing experience for

everyone. Guides trying to provide a quality experience for their clients are disadvantaged.

Selling the genetically unique Kenai River kings too cheaply. Uncontrolled competition has kept prices artificially low for catching the Kenai River's monster kings.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Sport Fish Division has been unable or unwilling, or lacks requisite authority to restore balance between user groups, perhaps in part because the department is funded by license fees.

Sales of nonresident licenses generate nearly three times ($6.7 million) as much revenue as resident licenses ($2.3 million). The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation repeatedly has been thwarted in its efforts to directly or indirectly control guide numbers.

Therefore, we urgently ask for your help in solving this problem and restoring the balance between user groups. KRPOA suggests taking the following steps to return balance to the resource for all Alaskans:

Reduce by half the number of commercial sportfishing guides operating on the Kenai River and other related sport fisheries, such as salt water off Deep Creek, by immediately enacting a limited entry program for guides with selection based on experience, residency, history of fishing violations and knowledge of the resource.

Encourage current efforts by some guides to tighten licensing requirements and improve professionalism. Currently, other than a one-day orientation and Coast Guard license for power boats, anyone who claims to be a guide can get a license.

Restrict the number of nonresident king salmon tags issued each year to ensure that runs are protected and that not more than 50 percent of the harvest goes to nonresident anglers.

Enact regulations that allow residents additional time during reasonable hours to fish without competing with guides.

Enact incentives for guides to exchange the heavy power boats for smaller flat-bottomed power boats or drift boats to reduce erosion.

Restrict the hours of guide operations and the number of trips per day to improve the quality of the experience for clients while reducing conflicts.

Enact season bag limits for nonresident anglers for all species of salmon to help stem the abuse by some tourists who fish the Kenai River the entire season to illegally catch salmon for resale outside Alaska.

If these or similar steps are not taken very soon, the world-class fishery that is the Kenai River will be lost to Alaskans and the unique Kenai River king may be destroyed in order to feed the voracious appetite of an out-of-control commercial sport fishing industry that is too large for the resource.

Help us restore a reasonable balance and protect the Alaska lifestyle. KRPOA would like to play a positive role in solving this problem and would welcome an opportunity to participate in a public process to seek solutions and implement the above recommendations.

Respectfully submitted for the

Kenai River Property Owners Association by:

Warren C. Hoflich Jr., chair

Will Josey, vice chair

Ted Wellman, vice chairs

KRPOA board

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