An Outdoor View: Tourist trap

Wikipedia defines “tourist trap” as “an establishment, or group of establishments, that has been created or re-purposed with the aim of attracting tourists and their money.” If this doesn’t define the Kenai River and surrounding area in summertime, what does?

While I applaud business owners who do things that benefit local residents, I don’t think much of those who huckster our finite resources to gullible tourists with little or no regard to social or environmental costs.

Earlier this week I searched the Internet for “Kenai River king salmon fishing.” Not one of the 27 guide business Web sites I checked mentioned anything about the present restrictions on king salmon fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. They read as if things are just ducky in Camelot. A sampling:

“Fish the most productive fishing locations on the river and enjoy the beautiful turquoise colored Kenai River while fishing for the World Famous Kenai River King Salmon … .”

“The Kenai Peninsula has many rivers that have thousands of king salmon entering them every year with the Alaska Kenai River Fishing being rated #1 for size.”

“It is not uncommon to land a trophy King weighing in at 60 to 70+ lbs!”

“Every year these mammoth Alaska salmon tip the scales at 70, 80 and even 90 pounds.”

“The rod tip jerks and then bends violently as the giant king salmon lunges through the air … and that is only the beginning!! This is salmon fishing on the famous Kenai River!”

“The late run starts the first of July and peaks from the 10th to 31st of July. The late run of Kenai King Salmon averages about 35,000-50,000 fish.”

What they don’t mention is that when the Kenai opened on Wednesday, bait was prohibited, and that you could fish for kings in only the lowermost 19 miles of the river. What they don’t mention is that the entire king salmon harvest in the Kenai River in 2014 was only about 600 fish, that king salmon fishing was restricted for the entire 2014 season, and that it was closed to fishing from July 26 to the end of the season, July 31. What they don’t mention is that you’d be about as likely to catch a king salmon in the Mississippi this year as in the Kenai.

As for the hype about the late-run “averages,” according to the ADFG news release of June 25, 2015: “Kenai River king salmon and other king salmon stocks are in a period of low productivity and have been below average run strength since 2009. That trend has continued during 2015. The 2015 preseason forecast for late-run Kenai River king salmon is for a total run of approximately 22,000 fish. This is less than one-half of the 1986–2014 average total run of approximately 57,000 fish … .”

The commercialization of the Kenai River has driven many people from the very place that attracted them to the area. Most of these people just grouse about it in private, accepting it as the inevitable result of “progress.” You’d have to wear blinders to not see what has happened.

It’s easiest to blame the guides, but I blame State Parks and the Department of Natural Resources for letting guiding and other commercial uses impact the Kenai River as much as they have. Guide numbers should’ve been limited years ago.

I also blame the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. While waving a conservation flag, this group actively supports commercialization of the river and its fisheries, to the detriment of both.

The Department of Fish and Game deserves some blame. Employees of ADF&G need non-residents to buy sport-fishing licenses and king salmon harvest stamps to fund their agency. Because of this need, employees have incentive to give anglers “fishing opportunities,” some of which have little to do with traditional fishing. For example, catching and releasing a king salmon is only a sick “opportunity” to make a magnificent animal fight for its life. That catch-and-release rules apply only when runs are at a low ebb, when the fish already are fighting for their lives, is cruel irony, but ADF&G needs the license revenues, so the farce continues.

Ladies and gentlemen, the circus has fallen on hard times. We need to close the Kenai to king salmon fishing until the runs rebuild, not continue trying to attract and fleece more suckers who don’t know anything is wrong.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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