King salmon fishermen use a two-stroke 25-horsepower motor to navigate the Kenai River last July. Commercial fishing guides favor a proposal to raise boat power limits to 50-horse-power from the current limit of 35. The same proposal would ban all two-strokes from the Kenai except those that utilize direct fuel injection.
M. Scott Moon
More than 75 people, mostly Kenai River fishing guides, came out in force to give testimony to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources on a proposal to raise outboard motor horsepower limits on the river.
In a purported move to reduce hydrocarbon emissions in the Kenai River and curb bank erosion, DNR is considering amending boat regulations to raise the horsepower limit from 35 to 50 and limit the boat size to 21 feet long and 106 inches wide.
The proposed changes would ap-ply to boats operating within the Kenai River Special Management Area. The horsepower limitation would not apply on Kenai Lake, on Skilak Lake or on the Kenai River between the Kenai Lake bridge and River Mile 80.7.
Most professional fishing guides who testified Tuesday night favor the changes.
In opening the public hearing, Chris Degernes, chief of field operations for DNR, said, “The primary group promoting these regulations is the Kenai River Special Management Area board.”
With few exceptions, a parade of guides testifying said they were in support of the DNR proposal.
Many of the guides said they already operate 50-horsepower motors that are detuned to produce only 35 horsepower. Allowing them to operate at their designed horsepower will allow them to operate more efficiently and pollute less, they said.
Joseph Rybak, however, said he has a 22-foot-long Willy Predator boat, and hoped the DNR would “not be quite so rigid” on boat size.
“Either you buy back my boat, or give us a couple more years to use them,” Rybak said.
Winston Gillies, of Kenai, said he is a commercial fisherman who is concerned about the quality of fish coming out of the Kenai River.
“I’d recommend one or two more days of drift-only (fishing) on the river,” Gillies said.
Dennis Gease said going to 50 horsepower “is a step in the right direction.”
“Boats up on the step cause much less wakes on the banks,” Gease said.
Guides have argued in the past that higher horsepower motors allow their boats to reach planing speed on the water quicker, which in turn produces less wake resulting in less bank erosion.
The proposed regulations also would ban two-stroke motors from the KRSMA section of the river, unless the two-stroke motors are direct fuel-injected.
Steve Tvenstrup, of Kenai, said he is not in support of going to 50 horsepower or eliminating two-stroke motors.
“My boat is used three times a year for about 1 1/2 hours. I have a 16-foot with a 35-horse Evinrude,” Tvenstrup said.
“I also have neighbors and friends who come down from Anchorage with their inflatables to float the eddy with 6-to-15-horse motors. They won’t be able to be in the river,” he said.
Tvenstrup also said, “If it gets out that the water is impaired, our fish prices will come down.”
He asked that the state not blame “the little guy for what’s happening on the lower river.”
Gary Turner, who described himself as a private angler, said he supports increasing the limit to 50 horsepower.
“True 35-horsepower motors are not being manufactured anymore,” Turner said.
“If we remove two-strokes, we’ll remove 240 of the 300 gallons a day of hydrocarbons going into the river,” Turner said.
Richard Thompson, who said he is a local commercial fisherman, urged caution before proceeding with the proposed changes.
“We should really be careful,” Thompson said.
“Other things could be done limit the number of people in the boats, more drift days,” he said. “I oppose the 50 horsepower in light of the impaired status.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation has announced plans to categorize the Kenai River as a Category 5 impaired waterbody due to high levels of hydrocarbons in the water.
“This won’t solve the hydrocarbon issue,” said David Martin of Clam Gulch.
“There have not been enough studies to know the effects of hydrocarbons on frye and their food source,” Martin said.
“Use the science of biology, not politics,” he said.
Dwight Kramer, of Kenai, said, “Increasing the number of guide boats does more to pollute than horsepower.
“My solution is cut back the guides to one trip per day with staggered starts,” Kramer said.
“Do not disenfranchise the small private boaters from the river,” he said.
Travis Swanson, of Ron’s Honda Center in Soldotna, said, “The perception that a 50 detuned is 35 horsepower is a joke. The perception that a 50 horse will pollute less is a joke.”
Swanson said a number of methods are used to detune outboard motors, either by restricting the amount of air into the fuel mix or by restricting the distance the throttle cam can move.
He said on four-stroke motors, the exhaust is funneled through the prop, making the motors quieter.
“When you change the throttle, you change the emissions output,” he said.
“Just because you’ve put a detune kit on a motor, doesn’t mean you’ve gone to a true 35 (horsepower),” Swanson said.
He also said, with new technology and electronic fuel-injected motors, operators could replace the computer chip to take the motor from a 40 horsepower to a 50 horsepower to a 60 horsepower, and the motor would not look any different.
He said by going to 50-horsepower motors, guides will be able to use bigger boats, which will throw wakes that swamp private fishermen in small John boats.
“It’s gonna kick them right off the river,” Swanson said.
Degernes said, “Between now and Dec. 19 is the time to talk.”
She said it is her hope that by the end of December or the beginning of January, DNR will know which part of the proposed regulation changes go forward.
As proposed, four-stroke motors or two-stroke direct fuel-injected motors only, would be allowed as of Jan. 1, 2008.
Written comments may be directed to her at the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, 550 W. 7th Ave., Suite 1380, Anchorage AK 99501-3561.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek @peninsulaclarion.com.
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