Kenai River silver salmon derby a go

The Kenai River silver salmon derby is set to go in two weeks after a long back-and-forth between the state and the two groups hosting it.

The city of Kenai and the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center partnered to put on the city’s first silver salmon derby, intended to draw more shoulder-season visitors to Kenai. After announcing the derby in March, the organizers began drafting plans for the event, officially signing a memorandum of understanding with the city in May.

However, between the planning and the permitting, the organizers hit some snags on the way to getting the final go-ahead Aug. 28.

To put on the derby, the organizers needed to obtain an event permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation because the entire Kenai River is a state park — the Kenai River Special Management Area. Thus, not only did the event have to follow the rules for a fishing derby under the Alaska Department of Revenue’s administrative code for gaming events and the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation’s permit requirements, it also had to follow the requirements of the Kenai River Comprehensive Plan. The plan, adopted in 1997, was developed by the Department of Natural Resources in consultation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center Vice President Brendyn Shiflea described the permitting process through the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation as frustrating.

“On our end, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and the city of Kenai are trying to do this to get people to the city of Kenai and in the long run to benefit Kenai, and in the long run certainly we’re conscious of not having an effect on the river and on the community,” he said.

The chamber board feels the organization was held to an unfair and unclear set of standards to obtain the permit, Shiflea said. First, the interlocking regulations on the Kenai River made it difficult to determine which agency exactly oversees derbies, he said — derbies are defined in the Alaska Department of Revenue’s administrative code and statute as one thing, but there are another set of rules for them in the Kenai River comprehensive plan. The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation manages the river and maintains the comprehensive plan, which required the derby not to impact the peak of the run with concentrated angler effort and to be hosted by a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

The chamber is a 501(c)6 nonprofit and holds a gaming permit for its other activities under the Department of Revenue, but under the Parks regulations wasn’t eligible to host the derby, Shiflea wrote in an email. To meet that regulation, the city and the chamber pulled in the Kenai Community Foundation as the nonprofit partner.

“This proved to be a contentious issue with State Parks — who insisted that a 501(c)(3) non-profit be involved,” Shiflea wrote. “State Parks offered suggestions on which non-profit(s) to work with. (The chamber and city) were not interested in working with any entities not directly based in and related to Kenai, and eventually elected to partner with the Kenai Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) based in Kenai.”

Derbies are river events singled out in the comprehensive plan subject to different regulations. Events on the river with more than 20 people require special use permits, but fishing events like the Kenai River Classic — also a fishing event, hosted by nonprofit sportfishing advocacy organization Kenai River Sportfishing Association — does not have a derby permit because it is a salmon classic, not a fishing derby.

The two are different under Department of Revenue regulations as well. Shiflea said the chambers had been told that classics are conducted by professional sportfishing guides only while derbies are open to private boats and anglers. The Department of Revenue’s statutes identify specific salmon classics approved for specific nonprofit organizations in statute, but events like the Kenai River Classic could be grandfathered in, said Christina Mitchell with the Department of Revenue.

The organizers submitted their permit application on June 27, and the permit was officially granted Aug. 28, a little over two months later. Permitters are allowed 30 days to review and process a permit and extensions beyond that if necessary, said Pam Russell, the permitting officer for tehe Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation in Soldotna.

Shiflea said the chambers were glad to get the permit and continue organizing. The derby will run from Sept. 13–17 and be based on a “magic weight” system — in which anglers can have their fish weighed in Kenai and whichever is the closest to the mystery weight will win the grand prize — to avoid selective harvest for only the largest fish.

“On our side, we’re totally comfortable about being open and transparent about what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We’re the city of Kenai and the Kenai Chamber and our goal is to put on a family-friendly, business-friendly, fish-friendly event that gets people up into the city of Kenai.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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