A recent letter to the editor from Frank Mullen has added a lot of strength to perceived problems with the Board of Fish. I once fished the Kenai River for kings, but do not presently do so. As I look at the existing conditions, a couple of things come right to the forefront. In the late 1970s, there were about the same number of commercial fishermen as today, there were not as many sport fishermen, and certainly nowhere as many guides. There were the daily gripes about the commercial fishermen taking the kings, but truth be known, it was usually due to fishing techniques. The Kenai River king salmon met or exceeded the escapement numbers. Sport fishermen drifted the river, usually using spin-n-glos, sometimes with bait. The river was a much quieter, gentler place, and very few peninsula residents fished on weekends, because that was when the Anchorage crowds showed up.
As we marched into the 80s, more and more guides were showing up, and shouting about the numbers of boats with too much horsepower creating bank erosion, plus they were saying the commercial fishermen were getting too many of the kings. It then became a fact that many of these contentious arguments were settled by courts and not by the Board of Fish, and certainly not by biological data. The end result was limiting boat horsepower, but not the number of guides, who by now, were increasing their hold on the river. Kenai kings were starting to decrease in their yearly escapement, guides were back-trolling, and (in my opinion) slaying kings on their spawning beds. The river was no longer a fun, gentle place to be.
Since then, the almighty dollar controls everyone’s thoughts. It is not the Kenai River king. The Board of Fish should think of the resource, as we all know it is no longer a river of mighty kings. A state senator recently said the only way we (Alaskans) are going to solve this problem is through equality. Commercial fishermen, guides, and true sport fisherman must come together and solve these differences or the river will become a very gentle place, one with no kings and no king salmon fishermen. If this requires the Board of Fish to be totally changed, so be it, but again all groups must make a truce and peacefully agree to let the river come back, if it can.