Kenai guide numbers issue comes up again

Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Kenai River is facing a number of problems from crowding to erosion to the heightened risk of contamination from outboard motors and other sources. At Monday night's Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee meeting, a discussion of limiting Kenai guides turned into a forum for members to voice the opinion that in order for any of the Kenai's problems to be solved, they must all be taken into consideration.

Although no consensus was reached, some ideas came forward that indicate a more comprehensive approach needs to be taken in order to protect the peninsula's most vital natural resource. The bottom line, committee members agreed, is that to protect the salmon that return to the Kenai each year, the river's health must be protected at all costs.

"I've always said, we can kill every fish that goes up the river and bring 'em back. But if you kill the river, they'll never come back," said committee member Tom Corr, a longtime area fishing guide.

Limiting Kenai guides was discussed at length by the committee, and it seems all were in agreement that fishing guide numbers have risen to unacceptable levels.

"We have to make cuts, I think everybody agrees on that," Corr said.

However, the means for cutting guide numbers is a politically sensitive issue, fraught with challenges both legally and socially. The Kenai River Special Manage-ment Area Advisory Board tried earlier this year to place a moratorium on Kenai River guides, but, in April, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources decided to rescind the moratorium.

At the time, the state announced it had reached a settlement with several businesses and individuals who filed a lawsuit in Alaska Superior Court challenging the moratorium. In a one-page press release, DNR Commissioner Tom Irwin said the state had agreed not to pursue any limits on Kenai guides until further study is done on the issue, and the public has more opportunity to comment.

Corr said there are measures available to limit guides such as making the Coast Guard test guides to obtain a license or charging higher fees for nonresident guides but whether the state will go forward with them is another issue entirely.

However, other committee members said such changes would only be short-term measures that won't solve the perceived crowding problems over the long haul. Committee member Paul Shadura, a setnetter, said he doesn't think such measures will do enough to cut crowding enough to make much of a dent in the overall number of boats on the water.

"Those are just roadblocks, but they're not changing the course of the road," Shadura said.

He said he'd like to see a much more comprehensive approach taken to solving the Kenai's problems. He suggested a comprehensive plan be implemented that takes into account all the issues crowding, erosion, contamination and conservation.

"Maybe it's time we group all of our visions and goals together ... and put it all together as justification for a document," Shadura said.

"Maybe this is a long-range plan we need to do."

Committee member Ken Tarbox, a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, agreed that something needs to be done to ensure the long-range stability of the Kenai. Otherwise, the river could go the way of so many other Western rivers that have succumbed to the pressures of development and overexploitation.

"I still think we're asking the wrong questions," Tarbox said. "The question is: What type of sustainable fishery do you want on this river?"

Following the discussion, committee members agreed to again take up the issue of guide numbers as well as others associated with the overall future of the river at its December meeting.

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