Despite the contention between guided and non-guided anglers, the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee breezed through guiding proposals at Wednesday's meeting relatively quickly. The committee voted to support four proposals but opposed the rest, most of which sought to restrict guides on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers.
The majority of proposals 302 through 329 in the 2007-2008 Fish and Game proposal book attempted to deal with hydrocarbon exceedences and boat-wake erosion on the Kenai River as well as crowding issues on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers by changing guiding hours and limiting the number of guides on the river. Even though it opposed almost every other proposal that would restrict guides, the committee, concerned with the number of guides on the river, voted to support 302.
Proposal 302 seeks to address issues with guides crowding out non-guided anglers on the Kenai River by initiating a limited entry program. According to the proposal description, if it passed, all users would benefit from less crowded conditions on the river as well as reduced erosion and lower hydrocarbon levels. Even though the proposal was included in this year's book, the Board of Fisheries posted a note stating that it does not have the authority to institute a limited entry guide program. Proposal 302 was included in the list of proposals because the Board of Fisheries can implement other guide registration requirements.
Committee member and guide Joe Connors warned the committee that a limited entry program for guides has to be supported by biological data and decided upon by the state legislature.
"Whatever you decrease is filled by other users," Connors said. "A judge set a standard. You have to come up with the data. (You're) impacting lives and jobs, you could get sued if you don't do it right."
Connors said the number of guides on the river during this year's season, which totaled 396, is the same as last year and that he knows of some guides who were eligible to guide, but decided not to. The guide academy offered at Kenai Peninsula College, which is now a requirement to guide on the Kenai River, will also slow the process down, he said.
"The guide academy is a major expense and commitment," he said. "(You'll) see significant decreases (in the number of guides) as people have to take that. There are people who are not going to do it."
Mike Crawford, who pointed out that most of the proposals considered were written by people who aren't happy with the guide industry, said even if the committee came up with a number of boats, folks would still say the river is too crowded.
"What percentage can be guided or unguided?" he said, adding that even though guides are prohibited from being on the river on Sunday, it's still crowded. "This goes for all issues (whether it's) restricting the number of guides, hours or days. It amazes me that a fish can get through that, we don't have a biological reason to limit hooks."
Committee member Ed Moegelien said many of the guiding proposals were written by the Kenai Area Fishermans Coalition, a group that feels the Kenai River is a public resource. A lot of the negative feeling toward the guide industry stems from what that group sees as a commercialization of a public resource, he said.
Despite the fact that the Board of Fisheries legally wouldn't be able to institute a limited entry guide program, the advisory committee voted to support it. Advisory committee chairman Gary Dawkins said support of proposal 302 was fueled by a concern of the number of guides on the river. He said the majority of committee members would like to see a limited entry guide program instituted for the Kenai River, but added that initiating a program would have to be decided by state legislation.
"It's unconstitutional and it can't be done in a public process," Dawkins said. "As custodians of the river, we're concerned and we would like to see something done, but obviously this can't be it."
Most of the proposals the group voted to oppose sought to restrict the number of days and hours guides can be on the river. This included proposals 310 and 311, both of which sought to prohibit guides from fishing the Kenai River on Sunday. This proposal was designed to discourage illegal guiding, but Robert Begich, Fish and Game sportfishing biologist, said it would also prohibit guides from using any type of vessel, registered or otherwise, to fish on the river.
"That just prevents me from taking a day off to go dipnetting," Connors said.
The next meeting will take place on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Kenai Peninsula College when the advisory committee discusses proposals 255 through 277, dealing with the Kenai River king salmon fishery.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.