Tourist dollars, not conservation, are behind newest fish board regulations

Indecent proposals will kill kings

Posted: Friday, March 01, 2002

Well, folks, indecent proposals have left us burdened with indecent regulations. Courtesy of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the Kenai River Professional Guides Association, and the Board of Fisheries, resident dipnetters have had their fishing cut nearly in half, guides may now fish Sundays and after 6 p.m., and fishing the first run of Kenai kings is a fiasco.

From May 1 through June 10, only fish 40 inches and less and fish 55 inches and greater can be killed. After June 10, the best three weeks of the first run of Kenai kings is catch-and-release-only except that kings 55 inches and larger, the very fish everyone is supposedly so concerned about, can be killed as trophies.

All to provide more fish in the river for nonresident fishermen and to help eliminate the possibility of closing the season early which costs the tourist fishing industry money. Fish on Alaska residents' tables have been sacrificed to selfish business interests.

The first casualty of the new regulations is resident fishing of the first run. A local radio station conducted a survey with the question, "Will you continue to fish the first run of kings?" An astounding 91 percent of residents responding said no. An acquaintance told me, "I'm selling my boat."

Next to die as victims of the new regulations will be the king salmon.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game pegs the mortality rate of recreational catch-and-release king salmon at about 7 percent. A study conducted by the Pacific Salmon Commission Fisheries (1997) accepts a figure of 12.3 percent mortality for sport caught-and-released kings.

But whatever the figure, some catch-and-release kings are going to die. Some fish die because of where they're hooked -- in the gills or in the gullet. Most of us know a bleeder is a dead fish.

But fish die for other reasons too. Stress, lactic acid buildup in tissue, scale loss and compromise of the fish's slime can all be, and frequently are, lethal. It just takes the fish a little longer to die -- days instead of hours. Think about the additional stress to marginal fish held with their jaws locked tight in the mesh of a landing net while someone attempts to figure out if they're legal.

Lots of dead fish will float downstream, unseen in the Kenai's glacial flow.

So while resident fishermen are denied the ability to kill a fish smaller than 55 inches for the table after June 10, fish will nevertheless be killed at the rate of seven, 10, 12, maybe more, of every 100 caught.

Is this conservation? Or is this kind of fishery nothing more than an unconscionable appetite for tourist dollars? Pulling off these new regulations took some doing.

As Les Palmer reported, "Behind closed hotel-room doors, members of the KRSA and the Kenai River Professional Guides Association coalesced to support a no-harvest, catch-and-release fishery for the early-run kings." There's more: KRSA brought along its own biologist from Oregon to make sure the board heard testimony that would support KRSA and KRPG's proposals.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game employs biologists, part of whose job is to advise the Board of Fisheries. These local men and women work for us, Alaska's residents, and are dedicated, hard-working, knowledgeable professionals who represent decades of collective experience with Kenai kings and much more.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the reason Brett Huber paid for an out-of-state biologist was because state biologists couldn't or wouldn't tell the board what KSRA wanted and needed the board to hear.

Our fish and the Kenai River are increasingly dominated by the tourist-oriented sportfishing industry and the guides with no end in sight. What can be done? Only our involvement will turn this indecent situation around. Go to KRSA's (www.kenairiversportfishing.org/) and KRPG's (www.krpga.org/) Web pages, and e-mail them your thoughts. They both supported this indecent state of affairs -- maybe they can be persuaded to un-support it. Montana has passed laws limiting nonresident fishing -- there's a very thrilling thought. Talk to your legislators about such laws in Alaska. Later this year when the gubernatorial candidates are courting our votes, get your candidate to agree to, when elected, fire the entire Board of Fisheries and start fresh.

Think about it while you're standing in line, buying your fish at the supermarket. Think about it when it's too crowded to bother going fishing. Who now can fault villagers for preferring federal to Board of Fisheries oversight? If we want our fish back, we've gotta do more than gripe about it. Let's get to work.

John Nelson of Soldotna first moved to Alaska in 1961. He has lived in the state off and on ever since. Back in the early 1970s, he worked in the guiding business in the Talkeetna area. He says he has long since repented in sackcloth and ashes.



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