Declining angler numbers spur fishing surveys

Posted: Monday, October 23, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- The state is preparing a mail-out survey in efforts to learn why residents are buying fewer sportfishing licenses despite the boost in Alaska's population and an explosion in the sale of nonresident licenses.

State officials also are trying to determine what, if anything, appears to be driving anglers from the Kenai River.

Chris Degernes, Kenai area superintendent for Alaska State Parks, said she envisions a study in two parts. The first would be a mail-out survey to gauge angler perceptions. The second would be a survey about the Kenai River to determine where boaters fish, what methods they use and how much they move around.

Degernes said she would like to learn what might be driving anglers from fishing on the Kenai River.

''We hear anecdotally that people have left the river because it's crowded, there's too many guides,'' Degernes said. ''Whatever the story might be, we haven't really analyzed that.''

Degernes outlined her plans last week during a meeting with the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board. She asked the panel to help design the survey.

''License trends are getting mixed into this,'' Degernes said. ''Maybe they're getting mixed in because there's something people are no longer happy with.

''Maybe someone can't fish because someone is back-trolling where they used to drift. Maybe someone is waiting too long in line at the boat ramp.''

Doug Vincent-Lang, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game's Division of Sport Fish, said two separate studies should be conducted.

''Maybe the reasons why you leave the Kenai River are different from the reasons you're leaving sport fishing in general,'' he said. ''Maybe you're leaving the Kenai River because of overcrowding. Maybe you're leaving sport fishing because you have no time to fish.''

Vincent-Lang and Bob Walker, also with Sport Fish, found in a recent study that the number of Alaska residents who bought sportfishing licenses dropped from nearly 191,000 in 1993 to 176,000 in 1999.

The decline was particularly pronounced in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska and among residents aged 16 to 39.

''When you piece together what's happening in people's lives, it's trying to get careers online, having kids and raising families. And fishing is less and less a part of their lives,'' Vincent-Lang said recently.

Vincent-Lang and Walker found that the number of nonresidents who bought sportfishing licenses rose from 171,000 in 1993 to 228,000 in 1999.

However, the segment of visitors who buy licenses declined from a peak of more than 21 percent in 1995 to about 19 percent in 1999.

Funding for the Division of Sport Fish is tied to license sales, and the decline in resident licenses threatens funding for research on the Kenai River, Vincent-Lang said.

The rising sale of nonresident licenses has made up the difference so far, but that could change if tourism declines, he said.

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