No question, it’s time for a change on the Kenai River

Voices of the State

Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Kenai River advisory board has recommended a change from 35 to 50hp outboards — a good move. The facts are overwhelmingly on the side of the 50hp. But first, a bit of history: Gov. Bill Sheffield enacted a river advisory board, Kenai River Special Management Area, to help the public have input to the management of this popular river.

Almost 20 years ago, KRSMA addressed the issue of horsepower limits for the Kenai. At that meeting, board member Bix Bonney said, “I have a 35hp and it’s good enough for me.” Bix didn’t note it was 10 years old and on a short, two person, 12-foot john boat. Nor did anyone make the point that 35hps weren’t even manufactured any longer. From that remark, without any scientific reasons, wake studies or research, came the ruling for limiting horsepower on the Kenai to 35hp; a casual comment that became a state regulation.

Testimony at the recent Sept. 28 KRSMA meeting brought out that to comply with the regulation, dealers have been detuning 50hp engines to 35hp, which is unlawful under federal law. So, the state has been enforcing a horsepower rating for an engine that is not manufactured any longer.

To comply with that regulation, anglers must detune a 50hp to a 35hp in violation of a federal emissions law. This inconsistency needs to be corrected. There isn’t a scientific or logical reason for a 35hp limitation. Not one.

It’s all pluses for 50hp:

· Safety issues

The 50hp will improve public safety. A 35hp with four passengers and an operator/guide in a 18- to 20-foot boat is underpowered, “plowing through the water”; it is difficult to get up “on the step.” A 50hp takes less time to get “on the step” and thereby allows better boat control and safety. The 50hp will also relieve congestion, as it will reduce transit time by 20 percent.

· Speed

No other river in our state has a horsepower/speed induced limit. A Kenai 35hp river boat with five people aboard will travel 18 to 20 mph if and when it “gets on the step”, that same boat with 50hp will travel about 23 to 28 mph; will get “on the step” in half the time, leave a smaller wake, and have a sane, safe, controlled speed limit.

· Habitat

Juvenile salmon live within 3 to 5 feet from the river bank. It is their shelter and food source. Protecting that nursery is critical for their survival. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that 50hp will reduce the river bank degradation by allowing a boat to promptly get on the “plane” and thereby reduce the size and height of the boat wake that is presently made by “plowing” 35hp boats. Helping protect that habitat is reason enough, all by itself, to change to 50hp.

· More boats, not true

“There are many more boats now, too many people.” This is not true.

Ask for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “Early Run Effort” and “Late Run Effort” graphs at 262-9368. It clearly shows there was more peak angler king fishing effort on the Kenai in the 1980s and 1990s than there has been in the 2000s. See for yourself. There is not more crowding now than there was 20 years ago.

· The Kenai

This change would be beneficial to the Kenai. It is the most prestigious fishing river in our nation. The 10 largest kings in the world all came from the Kenai, and they all weighed over 90 pounds. The Kenai holds more world records for salmon than all the rest of the rivers in the world put together. It is a national treasure.


The KRSMA board has voted to change from 35hp to 50hp. A wise decision; for safety, for habitat and for good sense, it is past time for this change. There is no question about it.

Bob Penney is a board member and co-founder of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and a member of the Cook Inlet Sportfishing Caucus.

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