State considers limiting guides on Kenai River

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state is considering freezing the number of Kenai River sportfishing guides while it examines a permanent cap.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Pat Pourchot has asked the Kenai River Special Management Area's advisory board to talk about the idea and report back to him.

''Those are issues that we have been pushing for a very long time,'' said board chairman Ted Wellman said.

The river crowding issue is tied to the stricter fishing rules. The Board of Fisheries has been trying to divvy up a limited number of the prized trophy salmon to a growing pool of anglers.

Those who fish for food have complained that the state should limit sport fishing. Animosity has been building for years. Then this June turned rough and tumble, with hundreds of boats jockeying for fishing holes and jamming the smaller Kasilof River because of king-salmon closures on the Kenai. The state decided now was a good time to try something new, Pourchot said.

The latest proposal would freeze the number of guides on the river at the 381 registered this year. Meanwhile, the state will research river crowding and legal questions, and decide if it can create Alaska's first limited entry program in a sport fishery, Pourchot said.

Limited entry was devised by constitutional amendment in the early 1970s to control the number of commercial fishermen netting salmon in an area. A finite number of fishing permits are issued. They can be bought and sold.

People have complained about guides since the state established the river as a park in 1984. Crowding was also the hottest issue when the river board rewrote its management plan in 1997.

Guide numbers have crept up since 207 registered in 1982. But their ability to land fish for their clients has grown astronomically.

Guides used to account for about 55 percent of the Kenai's king harvest. But guided anglers bagged about 90 percent of the early king run and 60 percent of the late run in 2001, according to Fish and Game.

The state Board of Fisheries has tried capping the number of clients per boat, reducing guided fishing hours and barring them from the Kenai on certain days of the week.

''We think there is a problem and the public seems to think there's a problem, but we don't want to jump on the solution without a lot more study,'' Pourchot said.

Many guides wish they could cap their own numbers. Some have proposed mentorship programs or high permit fees to winnow all but the most serious candidates.

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