Kenai partners with Chamber of Commerce for fall silver derby

Kenai’s city government will have a say in how the town’s first silver salmon fishing derby — initiated by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and planned to take place in September — will be carried out. The city is partnering with the Kenai Chamber of Commerce for the event.

On May 2, Kenai Chamber of Commerce Vice Chairman Brendyn Shiflea spoke with Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander about partnering for the derby.

“The chamber currently has a contract with the city to manage the visitor’s center, so it just seemed like a no-brainer to partner with them to boost tourism in the area,” Kenai Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Operating Officer Johna Beech said.

Kenai’s seven-member city council unanimously approved partnering with the chamber for the event at their May 17 meeting, giving Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander authority to represent the city in the partnership. On Wednesday Ostrander presented the council with a memorandum of understanding that allows for the two parties to make “a mutually agreed upon plan” for the derby’s rules, dates, prizes and ticket sales. The memorandum text states that it “does not create a financial obligation for either party.”

After the Kenai Chamber of Commerce announced the derby plan in late March, the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board expressed concern about the possibility of catch-and-release fishing harming the silver salmon run. In a previous Clarion interview, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Brian Marston said that derby prizes based on fish size would likely increase catch-and-release mortality by encouraging anglers to retain the largest fish to fill their bag limit and releasing the rest.

Some studies show silver salmon — also known as coho — may be particularly vulnerable to catch-and-release fishing. In a 1992 Alaska Department of Fish and Game study on the Little Susitna River, silvers caught with sport gear and kept for observation in a holding pen had a 69 percent mortality rate, compared with 1 percent for silvers caught by dipnetting.

Ostrander said the subject of the derby had come up in conversations he’d had — focused mainly on the personal-use dipnet fishery — with Fish and Game Sportfish Division Director Tom Brookover and regional management coordinator Matt Miller.

“There’s some things (the Fish and Game officials) want us to try to do, or they want the chamber to try to do, to make sure that the impacts to the resources are as minimal as possible,” Ostrander told Kenai City Council members at their May 3 meeting.

At their May 17 meeting, Kenai council members were among the concerned. Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and council member Henry Knackstedt both said they’d favor giving derby prizes on some other basis than by size.

Though the Kenai Chamber of Commerce’s initial proposal would have awarded prizes for the three largest fish, Beech said that based on comments they’ve received in the past three months, the derby organizers are now looking at other methods.

“Some of the suggestions we’ve gotten are to award the prize for the ugliest fish,” Beech said. “Or it’s been suggested that we do random draws, so if you bring in a fish you get a ticket, that sort of thing. Somebody suggested randomly picking a weight and sealing it in an envelope, and (giving prizes to) the three fish closest to that weight. So it could be a ridiculously small weight, or a mediocre weight, but nobody would know until the derby was over.”

Homer’s halibut derby and Seward’s long-running silver derby — an event now in its 62nd year, which Beech described as “a well-oiled machine” — both award prizes to those who catch specially tagged fish, an approach the Kenai derby organizers had also talked about, “but I don’t know if it’s gained any momentum,” Beech said.

She said the derby organizers were also speculating about shortening the derby, currently planned to run from September 6-18, from 12 days to four.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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