An Outdoor View: In the name of sport

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2010

Every so often, we might want to think about some of the things we do for "sport."

Take catch-and-release fishing. How sporting is it to purposely go out and catch and release trout all day, maiming and killing some of them in the process? If you fish the Kenai River much, you'll see trout with only one eye and with misshapen jaws, the result of being hooked and "played." Great fun, watching and feeling a trout frantically struggling for its life on the end of your line. Will we one day look back at catch-and-release fishing with the revulsion we now have for staged dog fights? We don't catch these fish for food, but just for fun. For sport.

I often walk down to the Kenai River from my home in Sterling. On such a walk in July, I saw a king salmon lying on its side, dead. By king standards, it wasn't large, maybe a 20-pounder. It was fat, bright-silver, and it hadn't spawned. In its mouth was a size 7/0 Gamakatsu hook. This fish was likely a casualty of catch and release, fishing for sport.

Salmon get but one chance to reproduce, so it's criminal to jeopardize that single opportunity by molesting them. According to Alaska's statewide sport fishing regulations, "molesting means the harassing, disturbing, or interfering with fish by any means, including the use of any missile or object not established as legal gear; molesting includes dragging, kicking, throwing, striking, or otherwise abusing a fish which is intended to be released." Yet, it's legal to molest salmon with legal gear, even to pull them off their spawning redds on purpose, in the name of sport.

By any measure, too many people fish the Kenai in July. Increasing the allowable horsepower on boats may have reduced the size of boat wakes, but it increased the speed and chance of serious accidents. It certainly didn't make the Kenai a better experience. Why did it happen? Because power boat owners used their horsepower in places other than the transoms of their Willie Boats, in the name of sport.

For years, every time anyone has tried to limit the commercial use of the Kenai River by fishing guides, the powers that be have allowed the effort to die. Guides apply tremendous fishing pressure on the Kenai and its boat-launching facilities. Everyone, including the guides, would be better off if there were fewer of these commercial users doing what they do in the name of sport.

Guides keep clamoring for more fishing time. A proposal before the Board of Fisheries for consideration early next year would allow fishing from registered guide vessels 24 hours per day in May. At present such fishing is allowed only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Another proposal would allow fishing from registered guide vessels on Sundays in May and June. Currently no fishing is allowed from guide vessels on those days. These self-serving proposals were submitted by the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, all in the name of sport.

Though 2-stroke engines have all but been eliminated from the Kenai, sources of pollution in its 2,000-square-mile watershed will continue to increase due to what we call "progress." If we're really concerned about the river, those of us who live along it and benefit from it need to ask ourselves some tough questions. Here's one: How much pressure on the resource should be allowed in the name of sport?

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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