Saturday, I witnessed something disturbing and disgusting.
The night before, the managers of our resources announced they would liberalize the Kenai River king salmon sport fishery by lifting the restriction that bans scent and bait.
Despite what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has recently termed a “period of low abundance” and failing or nearly failing to meet the low end of our minuscule, new escapement goal in recent years, ADF&G found it prudent to turn anglers loose despite presently having only 11,000 kings in a system that used to see late run king returns of 40,000 plus. We all know the politics of our fisheries and why this sport liberalization occurred, so this reckless move really should have surprised no one. But what it did was further divide user-groups, fill our community with anger and hatred, and once again jeopardize the future of our genetically unique chinook.
The sport anglers and river guides I spoke to the night before the bait opener confessed to be pretty disappointed with this move. Many were against it all together, knowing that success rates would soar and harvest numbers would skyrocket with the combination of bait and ideal water conditions that we are presently experiencing.
Yet early Saturday morning, while standing on a gravel bar flipping for sockeye with my clients near river mile fifteen of the mighty Kenai River, I witnessed the greediest, most short-sided behavior I have ever seen, as river boat after river boat drifted by, net in the air and rod deeply bent. I watched with sadness as king after king was scooped, bonked, and tossed into the fish box as if it were just another abundant food-fish of never ending numbers. Big grins and celebratory high-fives ensued in ignorant bliss, as if our “period of low abundance” never occurred and our king numbers were suddenly at historic highs.
I saw very little, if any, self-control or discipline for anglers to release their catch. No vision of the future. No concern for our kids or our grandkids, and no leadership or “higher standard” by said Professional Guides.
Instead, I witnessed a greedy, short-sided “Me-me-me!” attitude facilitated by a sick “I can, so I will” justification and a blatant “I’m not the problem” mind-set that seems to have our state, and our nation, in a strangle-hold.
Now, as I pen yet another letter to the editor with extreme sadness, I realize why many Alaskans view Kenai River guides with such disdain; far too many of us professionals are quick to point the finger at someone else yet we fail to look in the mirror, acknowledge accountability and “walk-the-talk” with conservation of our resource as our priority.
And today, after 26 years of full-time guiding in Soldotna, I am ashamed to call myself a Kenai River guide.