Proposed river guide changes draw crowd

Fishermen respond to certification concept

Posted: Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fishermen from both sides of the Kenai River gathered at a public hearing Monday to cast their views on possible regulatory changes that would require sportfishing guides in the Kenai River Special Management Area to attend and pay for a college course to receive a permit.

Some said the class requirement would be an insult to guides with years of experience on the river, who would gain little from the course.

“In general, I am in agreement with the parks to standardize the professionalism of guides,” said Dick Hahn, a fisherman from Soldotna. But it seems wrong to require even the very experienced guides to take a class that is likely to teach them little they do not already know, he said.

“To me the academy is a joke,” said David Richards, owner of Richards Kenai River Charters in Soldotna.

Other changes in the eight-page draft of regulations being considered by the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, also drew strong responses.

For example, fishermen balked at the draft’s proposed fee requirements. Under the proposed changes, permit fees could be increased as much as $250 and require guides to pay three years in advance.

Richards said the fee changes were highly inappropriate.

“They keep saying we need just a little more, a little more,” he said. “The guides are (already) paying more than their fair share. ... I don’t see anything in here that says this will be the end.”

Fishermen also questioned proposed changes that would withhold permits from fishermen convicted of a felony or more than one misdemeanor violation of sport or personal-use fishing regulations in the last five years.

“A and E may need to be rethought,” said Mike Beals of Soldotna, referring to the two proposed permit requirements.

Several fishermen said the two permit requirements should be deleted or should only apply to new applicants.

But according to Alaska State Parks Chief of Field Operations, Chris Degernes, the proposal to restrict permits to fishermen without recent misdemeanors is not unreasonable.

“A misdemeanor is really serious,” she said. “Guiding without a license, (for example) ... that, would be a serious Fish and Game misdemeanor.”

The proposed regulatory changes are the product of the Kenai River Working Group, which met from the fall of 2004 through spring 2005 to advise the Department of Natural Resources on guiding issues in the management area.

Joe Hanes, a Soldotna resident who served on the Kenai River Working Group, expressed disappointment over the fact that so few of the people who were complaining about the proposed regulations at the hearing had bothered to attend any of the working group’s meetings.

“Suddenly people show up and want to change things,” he said.

According to Degernes, the working group’s proposed regulation changes received unanimous support from its members.

“That says a lot when you consider the diversity of the group, a group wearing many different hats,” she said.

Jack Sinclair, state parks superintendent for the Kenai area, said the drafting of the proposed changes was an open process, and he supports the proposed academy.

“I think it will definitely improve things in the river if we do this,” he said. “It’s really to standardize the way guiding is done and just learn about habitat protection.”

The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation will accept comments on the proposed regulatory changes through 4 p.m. Dec. 19.

For copies, contact the DNR Public Information Center in Anchorage or call Chris Degernes at (907) 269-8702.

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