Early run kings swim to forefront

Crowd agrees managing fish more the issue

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2002

If last week's whirlwind series of meetings is any indication, local anglers like to talk about Kenai River king salmon almost as much as they enjoy catching them.

Saturday, anglers met at Soldotna Middle School for a forum on early run Kenai and Kasilof river kings, sponsored by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. The meeting was the third in a week to deal with the Kenai's most famous and controversial fish.

Saturday's forum was designed to deal specifically with the early run, though as most participants acknowledged, the larger issue of managing the Kenai's king salmon fishery isn't as simple as merely looking at dates on a calendar.

"None of these (river) systems exist in a vacuum," said Brett Huber, executive director of KRSA.

"Anything (that's done) on the Kenai, please consider the effect on the Kasilof," said Soldotna guide Mark Glassmaker.

Indeed, Saturday's meeting -- like meetings held by other organizations Tuesday and Thursday -- found most participants in agreement that there's a problem with declining numbers of kings returning to the Kenai, while the number of anglers hoping to haul one over the gunwale continues to increase.

"The driver is angler demand. Angler demand continues to increase, and the numbers of king salmon in Cook Inlet aren't," Huber said. "To me, that's the rub."

Most of the participants at Saturday's meeting were either guides or sport fishers interested in increasing the number of large kings returning to the Kenai in May and June.

Solutions on how to do that varied however, from shutting the fishery down entirely to limiting the numbers of guides to getting better representation on local advisory committees.


Long-time guide Rod Berg addresses one of the issues discussed Saturday.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"A lack of biological data is hampering the discussion," said Porter Pollard, who is on the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee. "Without scientific data, where do you turn to?"

Some suggested anecdotal evidence should be more heavily relied upon by Fish and Game in order to better protect early run kings, especially those attempting to spawn.

Several people suggested closing large sections of the river near known spawning tributaries in order to allow kings the chance to spawn without being hassled by anglers.

"That way you're not targeting one specific genetic strain of fish," said Soldotna guide Greg Brush.

Longtime guide Rod Berg criticized the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the department for failing to take into account anecdotal evidence pointing to the fact that vulnerable kings, in the process of spawning, need more protection.

"The Fish and Game couldn't care less where fish are caught," said Berg. "They just care about the escapement. That and their retirement."

The need to improve the numbers of kings -- especially the large, "five-ocean" fish, returning to the river proved to be the theme of Saturday's meeting.

"We've reached a critical stage. There is a need to not let the situation get any worse," said Ted Wellman, who is president of the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board.

By winter's end Wellman, who lives in Anchorage, may end up covering more miles than a king does in it's well-traveled life cycle.


KRSA executive director Brett Huber talks about early run king salmon during the meeting.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Wellman was in Soldotna Thursday, when the KRSMA board discussed placing a moratorium on new guides working the Kenai. That meeting featured many of the same crowding and demand issues discussed not only Saturday, but Tuesday at a meeting sponsored by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

All the meetings are being held in anticipation of the March 2003 meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. That's when the board will be charged with reexamining Kenai River king issues.

By then, the hope is that local anglers will have spent enough time discussing the issue to create a more comprehensive plan for managing the Kenai's most famous fishery.

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