Sportfishing guides, even those with years’ of experience navigating waterways in the Kenai River Special Management Area, would have to attend and pay for a mandatory college course in order to secure future state permits under regulatory changes being considered by the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
Other draft changes would impose new commercial permit fees on other aspects of sportfishing operations and are seen as a way to defer the higher costs of operating and maintaining the park system, according to state parks officials.
Some are controversial, said Dwight Kramer, a Kenai resident. Kramer served on the Kenai River Working Group, which met last fall and spring to advise the Department of Natural Resources on options for improving the professional nature of the sportfish guiding industry in the management area.
Kramer, who often fishes the Kenai River for recreation and personal use, said he has heard testimony from some guides upset about having to pay for a college course they don’t think they need.
“They felt they had a number of years of experience and wouldn’t gain anything from it,” he said.
That was a sentiment ex-pressed by some members of the working group during deliberations, though the group reached consensus on instituting college course requirement a guide academy and ultimately voted to include it in the draft proposals.
Those proposals will be discussed at a meeting to be held at the Kenai River Center conference room on Funny River Road Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. The changes include:
n A $250 increase in the maximum amount charged for noncompetitive park use permits in the KRSMA for commercial activities for residents and nonresidents, as well as an annual fee of $150 per rental boat. A fee could be added for permits issued for “uses prohibited by the director” under certain portions of the administrative code.
n An increase in professional standards required for all professional sportfishing guides permitted to operate in the KRSMA. Those standards would require that guides be a minimum of 18 years old; be registered in a random drug testing program; have a valid Alaska sportfishing license for a minimum of two previous years; submit a valid photo ID; have no felony conviction in the past five years, have not been convicted of more than one misdemeanor violation of sport or personal use fishing regulations in the past five years.
In addition, Kenai River sportfishing guides new and old would be required to attend a guide academy course to be delivered by Kenai Peninsula College. According to the proposed regulation, current permittees with one to five years experience would be required to complete the course in two years; those with six to 10 years, within three years; and those with 11 or more years, within five years.
All new guides seeking their first permits would be required to attend before getting that permit.
The draft guidelines would lengthen the terms of KRSMA sportfishing guide permits to three years.
The proposed changes also would establish penalties for a variety of infractions.
Kramer predicted Monday’s meeting will be lively as sportfishers debate the merits of the various proposed changes.
Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said his organization responded to a request from DNR last year and voted to help fund the working group with $15,000. He said the association supports both the working-group process and the package of regulatory recommendations. As for the guide academy, Gease said it was a way to ensure top quality professionalism in the industry.
“That’s a very worthy goal. The Kenai is one of the most heavily used rivers in the world for sportfishing,” he said. “You want to ensure there are professional quality standards everyone is aware of and can operate their businesses by in the guiding industry.”
College Director Gary Turner said it was a bit premature to say what a course would cost before knowing the final disposition of the draft regulations.
However, he did say that when the college began looking last year at establishing a course it anticipated a five-day program costing around $360.
Turner said the actual program might charge more given rising costs, but in any case, the course would be provided on a self-supporting, nonprofit basis.
“We are not in it for the money. We are in it to provide the service,” he said.
Gease said it was important to recognize that the working group involved a wide variety of people who developed a solid core of responsible proposals.
The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation will accept comments on the proposed regulatory changes through Dec. 19 until 4 p.m. For copies, contact the DNR Public Information Center in Anchorage or call Chris Degernes at (907) 269-8702.
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