The 2018 salmon season is getting off to a very slow start, with restrictions and closures around the state. King fishing on the Kenai has been dialed back to catch and release and for sport guides, that’s nothing new.
Restrictions have been put in place in one form or another for the better part of a decade on Kenai kings and that’s forced some changes in the guide industry. I spoke with Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease, from their new office in Soldotna that just opened this week, about how guides have had to adapt in recent years and what that string of closures has meant for the guide industry.
"The last time we did an economic survey in the state for sportfishing was 2007. That, coincidentally, was the last time we didn’t have restrictions in Cook Inlet for the early or late run Kenai river king salmon. In the last decade, we’ve also seen regulations imposed and closures and restrictions on the halibut fishery. So if you go back to the number of angler days in 2007, there were about 2.5 million angler days, about a half million anglers, 300,000 non-residents, 200,000 residents going out fishing. A decade later, the number of angler days has dropped statewide by 20 percent, so now we have about two million angler days. We still have about the same number of anglers. But that drop, that loss of a half million angler days has economic consequences, and you see it around different sportfishing communities; whether it’s Homer or Seward here on the Kenai or up in the Mat-Su. That loss has been concentrated in South Central. On the Kenai, back in 2007, we had more than 400 guides on the Kenai river. In recent years, that number had dropped below 250. It’s slowly building back up. Some people may say that’s a great thing (losing guides), but those are the folks that get people on and off the river in a manageable way. You do need a guide component in our community, they’re very important, making sure rules and regulations are followed so you prosecute orderly fisheries. That’s taken a hit, as has a lot of the other retail in the area. In May and June when we used to be going full forward on the king fisheries, now we’re down to catch and release and if we don’t see improved numbers, we’re going to be closed for the last two weeks in June in a very important fishery."
He says the guides that have stuck around have had to change the focus of their businesses in order to take advantage of the fishing that is still available.
"If your bread and butter was only king salmon, you’re probably not a guide on the Kenai any more. Most of them have had to diversify; trout fishing, sockeye fishing, different ways to incorporate that into your business models, but they have had to diversify just to stay in business."
Full interview with Ricky Gease:
This week’s number: $20.81
That’s the hourly wage one would need to earn in order to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. That according to a report out this week from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. For someone earning the state’s minimum wage of $9.84, that means a 78 hour work week for even a one bedroom apartment at current market rates.