Committee set to take fishing guide gripes

Anglers get chance to air grievances from language to boating behavior

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2007

With more than 700 boats on the Kenai River at the same time during the July king salmon fishing season, contention between user groups is inevitable. But while the Alaska Department of Parks and Recreation fields specific complaints, a new subcommittee of the Kenai River Special Management Area board will take complaints as a way to recommend future changes to fishing regulations along the Kenai River.

The Guide Advisory Committee was set up approximately a year ago to address guide-related issues along the Kenai River Special Management Area. Joe Connors, who holds the guide seat on the KRSMA board and is chairman of the Guide Advisory Committee, said the committee is just starting to get on its feet. It doesn't do any enforcement that's is up to rangers with Parks and Recreation but it can look at the complaint and address the issue on a broader scale. The committee also addresses guide convictions and the permit actions that result from them.

"What we're trying to do is look for trends and see if there are certain areas that really stand out," he said. "We don't deal (with them) individually."

Anglers will bring their complaints to Natural Resources Specialist Pam Russell who will turn them over to park rangers for investigation. Russell said anyone on the river can call if they feel there's a problem. Complaints can involve two guides or a guide and a member of the public, she said, and they can range from foul language and rude behavior to a boater passing too close to another boat.

There are a variety of ways a complaint can be handled. People with complaints can contact Russell, who will talk to both parties separately or they can talk to a ranger. The guide advisory committee can also serve as a moderator allowing the two parties to discuss the issue together.

"(I) don't feel there's been any severe complaints (this year)," Russell said. "The river's crowded is the biggest complaint. When you get that many people in that small an area you get stuff. (We) all need to vent so I hear everything."

Connors said the guide committee receives documentation from Parks and Recreation that categorizes the complaints and shows committee members how many were filed. In the case of rude behavior or a personality conflict, the committee wouldn't get involved. But for other complaints such as boating too close to fragile river banks, the committee could make recommendations to either the KRSMA board or to directly Parks and Recreation on what type of educational steps could be taken to prevent the incident from happening again. The same goes for guide citations too, Connors said.

"We might develop a handout (or) a pamphlet, do a radio ad or develop something that was posted at the kiosks," Connors said, adding that the committee would also decide whether future training is needed for guides or standards or regulations should be changed.

The committee is made up of four guides, two of which are nominated by the Professional Guide Association. Department of Natural Resources Kenai area superintendent Jack Sinclair and Robert Begich, sport fishery biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, are representatives from the two state agencies that have a presence on the river. Gary Turner currently fills the seat for the private angler while Connors is the KRSMA representative on the board.

Ted Wellman, vice chair for the KRSMA board, was at the Nov. 8 KRSMA meeting when Pam Russell summarized the extent of the guide complaints. While he isn't familiar with the details of the complaints, Wellman said he is glad there is a process in effect that will allow board members to hear those complaints, which, he said, are a result of the crowded conditions on the Kenai River.

"There are a lot of people plugged into the lower part of the Kenai River and that many boats running up and down, there are going to be a series of problems," he said. "I think the guide advisory committee was a very positive development. It's just beginning to get started and functioning. Our hope is that it would be a good sounding board so those problems could be worked out without actually getting into the law enforcement stage."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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