A new program aimed at promoting responsible Kenai River guiding was a success this season, according to Kenai River Professional Guides Association President Joe Connors.
Connors said Friday that the KRPGA Master Guides program certified its first 12 master guides this summer. The guides, most of whom have been guiding on the Kenai for more than a decade, were certified based on several criteria related to responsible behavior on and off the water.
"They've done so much for the industry and their community and they continue to do that," Connors said.
In order to become a certified master guide, Connors said the guides were given points based on criteria set by the guide association.
To qualify, a guide had to accumulate at least 30 points, with points awarded for time spent on the Kenai, service as a guide association board member or officer, participation in the Board of Fisheries process, participation in community service events such as the KRPGA Take a Kid Fishing Day and volunteer work.
In addition, points can be deducted if a guide has any past citations from Fish and Game, Alaska State Parks or other law enforcement agency.
Among the 13 guides certified this year are Larry Waltrip, Daniel Meyers, Roger Byerly, Jeff King, Greg Brush, Joe Hanes, Reuben Hanke, Mel Erickson, Joseph Hager, Bix Bonney, Joe Connors and Vince Strahmann.
Connors said the group includes the type of guides he believes can help set a good example for the rest of the industry.
"These are really good guys," he said. "You're talking about the history of the industry. In some cases, before the history."
The first crop of master guides will serve as a certification board for future candidates. Connors said he envisions the program becoming a way to help younger guides learn how to be responsible out on the water.
"It's twofold. One to honor people who have stepped up and provided leadership and also to encourage the younger people to do those sorts of things," he said.
Connors said he believes fewer conflicts between the guide fleet and the general public will be the result of his association's efforts. In the absence of any limitation on guide or any other user group numbers, he said the best way to ensure the river is a safe place is to work hard to maintain a responsible guide industry.
"The key is professional guiding," Connors said.
Connors said he hopes the program will change the public's perception that guides are short-term operators only in the business for a quick buck. He said the majority of guides are local residents who have been on the river for a significant amount of time.
He points to statistics that say 62 percent of Kenai guides have more than five years of guiding experience. It's that kind of stable, responsible guide fleet that he wants to encourage.
"Five years down the road we will be accomplishing our goals of honoring each year people who stood up and gave their time and energy to encourage professionalism in our industry," he said.
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