Can catch, release catch on? Guides advocate for voluntarily avoiding harvest

Photo courtesy of Greg Brush. Kenai River fishing guide Greg Brush and a client pose with a 55.5-by-34-inch king salmon, estimated at 80 pounds or more. Brush will no longer allow kings in his boat. His Kenai king trips are catch and release only.

Photo courtesy of Greg Brush. Kenai River fishing guide Greg Brush and a client pose with a 55.5-by-34-inch king salmon, estimated at 80 pounds or more. Brush will no longer allow kings in his boat. His Kenai king trips are catch and release only.

Editor’s note: Mark Wackler was misnamed in the original version of this story. The Redoubt Reporter apologizes for the error.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For a sportfishing guide on the fabled Kenai River, having a client wrestle a monster king salmon to the side of the boat — one of the 50-, 60-, 70-pound or bigger fish for which the river became famous — is a dream scenario.

These days, though, it’s much more frequently a dream than reality, as Kenai king salmon runs have struggled in low abundance in recent years. And for an increasing number of guides concerned about the shrinking number and sizes of kings in recent years, that dream scenario becomes a nightmare if the king is then bonked to kingdom come and hauled into the boat.

Catch and release king fishing is nothing new for kings on the Kenai. Some anglers prefer the fish’s fight to its flesh. Some guides throughout the years have counseled that choice to clients, as well. And the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has the ability to make that choice for all anglers as a conservation-minded management strategy to restrict harvest without completely shutting down fishing. But compared to what has been the norm — boat ’em and bonk ’em, and post pictures of exultant, exhausted fishermen straining to boost their massive king carcass up for the camera — catch and release is the quiet, uncelebrated outlier.

Fishing guides Mark Wackler and Greg Brush are trying to turn up that volume. They’ve both enacted catch-and-release-only policies for any Kenai River kings and are agitating for other guides to do the same.

“The last couple years I’ve taken a hard stance of educating the people prior to the charter and saying, ‘Kenai kings are struggling right now, we’re in a period of low abundance and there just aren’t as many as there used to be, and if you king fish on the Kenai with me or my guides, we do nothing but catch and release,’” said Brush, owner of EZ Limit Guide Service.

Both came to their policies over years of guiding on the Kenai, having pursued kings the same way many do.

“I went 15 years of guiding king salmon and killing 99 percent of them. There seemed to be plenty of fish, and I think I’m in the majority,” said Wackler, of Alaska Fishing with Mark Wackler, who started guiding when he was 16 and has been at it about 20 years now. “It’s been advertised as a meat fishery. You see everybody’s website, they’re holding up a 60-, 70-pounder on the front of their boat, dead as can be. That’s just what we did and we never really thought about it, unfortunately. In hindsight, I wish we did think about it and realized just how precious these really big ones were.”

The more the kings have struggled, the more he’s struggled with the thought of any of them landing on his boat. Midseason three years ago Wackler decided things had to change.

“I remember killing three 35- to 40-pound hens and looking at them in the box and just having this sick feeling and not happy with myself. I remember it like it was yesterday, I remember that moment thinking, ‘I’m not going to do this again. There’s no way,’” he said.

Brush has guided on the Kenai for 26 years, having moved to the area sight unseen just for the opportunity to do so.

“We were young and naïve and it was great fishing for the biggest kings in the world, and we took it for granted. We bonked them and pulled them out and said, ‘This is what the limit is? OK,’” he said.

He reached his limit slaying kings about five years ago, after seeing the fishery dwindle.

“There’s guides out there and sportfishermen, laypeople that will grumble for 10 hours straight about what it used to be and how bad it is and, ‘I can’t believe it,’ and yadda, yadda, yadda. And they finally catch one and what do they do? Pull it right out of the gene pool. It’s ludicrous craziness,” he said.

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Data-driven collisions — Fish and Game seeing changing trends in wildlife-vehicle accidents

File photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A bull moose draws a crowd as it prepares to cross the road.

File photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A bull moose draws a crowd as it prepares to cross the road.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Tourists and Alaskans alike often enjoy seeing moose, but never so up close that one of the 1,200-pound animals is crashing through their windshield. Yet that inevitably happens every year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“To be exact, we had 154 moose that were hit, killed and reported on the Kenai Peninsula from July 1, 2014, to June 10, 2010,” said Larry Lewis, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game.

Those numbers are actually trending downward when compared against the averages for the past 28 years, Lewis said, which is how long records of moose-vehicle collisions have been kept by Fish and Game, compiled from their own reports as well as from Alaska State Troopers, Kenai and Soldotna police and the Alaska Railroad, since moose stepping onto railroad tracks are occasionally hit by trains.

“When you look at the data from 1985 to ’86 up to 2013, the mean number of moose hit comes out to about 248 animals, and 154 is obviously well below that,” Lewis said.

While the number of moose killed has started to come down in recent years, Lewis said that the number of moose that run off into the woods after being hit is trending upward.

“I’m not sure if it’s lighter vehicles now versus the old tankers, or if it has something to do with how people are driving, but last regulatory year we had reports of 79 hit and not recovered. We only started keeping track of this since 2000, but just since that time the average is 73,” he said.

As high as both these numbers are — 233 combined — Lewis said that the numbers still don’t paint a clear picture of how many moose are actually hit on the peninsula.

“These are just the ones we know about. By law, collisions with moose are supposed to be reported, but every year some are found dead on the roadside,” he said.

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Cut to the budget chase —  Gov. Walker’s administration solicits ideas for filling state’s financial gap

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration stresses that cuts alone won’t be enough to bridge the state’s budget gap.

Theoretically, balancing a budget is a simple mathematical affair — add revenues and subtract expenditures until you reach equilibrium.

But when you’re talking about Alaska’s budget, things get complicated. As Randall Hoffbeck, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue, explained at a Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, the state’s $4.9 billion unrestricted general fund faces a $2.7 billion shortfall.

“$2.7 billion is $8 million a day that we go into debt. That’s how big $2.7 billion is, and how difficult it’s going to be to close,” Hoffbeck said.

Difficult both logistically and controversially.

“Every one of the options that we’ve put out there has a constituency for and against. No matter what the solution that we ultimately arrive at, it’s going to be controversial, and we’re going to ask some people to make some very difficult decisions in the next year,” he said.

Cutting alone won’t close the gap, Hoffbeck said. The state’s general fund budget already has been slashed from $8 billion in fiscal year 2013, to $4.9 billion last year.

“We essentially could cut out all government programs and you still wouldn’t have a balanced budget. What comes next is more painful than what’s come in the past. In order to really achieve any significant savings in cutting government expenditures now, it comes out of programs,” Hoffbeck said.

So that leaves revenue, but the state’s traditional magic bullet won’t be enough of a shot in the arm to close this gap.

“The reality is that with the tax regime that we have now, the production that we have now and the price that we have now, the three working together really set up a situation where we simply cannot expect oil to bail us out again,” he said.

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Warm hearts, warm feet — Vacation Bible school is no vacation from caring

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Soldotna Church of God donated 620 pairs of socks for distribution through Central Peninsula Hospital facilities.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Soldotna Church of God donated 620 pairs of socks for distribution through Central Peninsula Hospital facilities.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The kids at Soldotna Church of God do not have cold feet when it comes to helping their community. As a result, people in need receiving services at Central Peninsula Hospital and its associated facilities won’t have cold feet, either.

“When I came in Monday morning I found all 600 pairs in my office,” said Kathy Gensel, director of the Central Peninsula Health Foundation, who will help distribute the 620 pairs of socks donated by the church to various departments in the hospital.

“I think we’ll be able to disperse them through the emergency room, through Serenity House and their transitional living program, through the SART-SANE, which is the sexual assault folks, and then also through Heritage Place,” she said.

Rachael Verba is a nurse in the emergency room, where many of the socks will go to the homeless people who come through the department.

“A lot of times we’ll get the homeless patients in, and socks are the one thing when you take them off you just don’t want to have to put them back on patients,” Verba said. “It was definitely appreciated because we have many homeless in the summer or just transient people that come through that can really use them.”

There are kids and adult sizes, men’s and women’s, from plain, serviceable white to solids, stripes, polka dots and about any other color and pattern under the rainbow.

“And now we can actually match it to outfits. We have options,” she said.

A heart-shaped note is safety-pinned on each pair, with a Bible verse on one side and a drawing or handwritten note from one of the kids on the other. That’s the kind of detail that helps personalize the donation. It’s one thing to run a donation drive and have the kids just bring the socks to the hospital. But for Maria Chythlook, children’s pastor at the church, it’s much more a meaningful message to have the kids think about who will receive the socks and what their efforts will mean for the recipients.

“We want to get the kids out in the community, we want them to learn that no matter how small you are, you can make a difference,” Chythlook said.

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Summer Photo Contests

Soldotna’s ARTSpace Inc., the Redoubt Reporter, city of Soldotna and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring two summer photo contests with cash prizes, publication and possible later use in local art activities. All submitted work must be family friendly, suitable for general publication and for exhibition in locations where children may be present.

The deadline for submitting images to each contest is 11:59 p.m., Aug. 21. The contest is open to all Alaska residents with a permanent U.S. mailing address in Alaska and who are either amateur photographers or emerging photographic artists. There is no entry fee.

All submissions should be made as fully corrected, highest-quality JPEG format image files suitable for immediate use and emailed to Artspaceak@gmail.com prior to deadline. All submissions must be made by email and must be accompanied by a signed, official entry form, agreeing to the contest rules, terms and conditions.

Photo Contest Application Form (PDF)

Entrants may enter either the Fine Art or Soldotna contests, or both. Each emailed entry must be specifically labeled as “Fine Art” or “Soldotna” in the subject line of the email.

The Fine Art contest encompasses work of a primarily artistic nature of any subject matter and photographic technique. Both single images and bodies of work — a series of six to 10 related fine art images that cohesively examine a specific subject, place or technique — are eligible and welcome. Bodies of work are preferred in the Fine Art contest.

Awards in the Fine Art Body of Work category are $200 for first place, $100 for second and $50 for third. A single $100 cash prize will be awarded for the best single image. All photos will be judged by University of Alaska art faculty and others for artistry, including concept and composition, technical quality, realization of intent and originality.

The city of Soldotna contest seeks no more than five images per entrant that depict life, recreation, economic activity and/or nature in and around the city of Soldotna.

Awards in the Soldotna contest are $200 for first place, $100 for second and $50 for third. Individual photos will be judged for strong content, artistic presentation and concept, technical quality and suitability for use in various city of Soldotna and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Web sites and publications. The city of Soldotna will print and display decorative highway banners of one or more suitable entries in this contest.

Individual entrants may later be invited to participate in a variety of later exhibits and art activities, including Phase II of ARTSpace’s Central Peninsula outdoor public and art mural projects, Soldotna’s forthcoming yearlong “drawers” exhibit, and as entries into Soldotna’s 2016 Memorial Day Emerging Artist contest. A few dozen of the best images from each contest will be included in later commemorative books of photographs.

Soldotna contest entries also will be made available to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and the city of Soldotna for review and for possible promotional use of entered photographs as set out in the official rules, terms, and conditions posted on the ARTSpace 2015 photo contest Web page.

 

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Plugged In: Phones getting much smarter with cameras

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Smartphones once had a reputation as handy devices with wonderful screens but low-quality photos suitable only for web postings. That was due to the limitations inherent to the tiny imaging sensors and lens able to fit into a smartphone’s thin case. Olympus, Sony, DxO and Panasonic have radically challenged that conventional wisdom.

Rather than trying to change smartphones, they’re leveraging a smartphone’s strengths. Smartphones usually have great screens, a reasonable amount of versatile internal computing power and excellent connectivity.

Illustration 1 Sony QX100-20

Illustration 1 Sony QX100-20

Sony pioneered the transition in late 2013 with its QX10, QX30 and QX100 camera modules. These incorporated a separate, 1-inch sensor, an internal battery and memory card, and a variety of permanently attached zoom lenses into a moderately compact, cylindrical package that electronically connected to a variety of smartphones via standard Near Field communication hardware. As with Olympus’ more recent AIR camera module, Sony’s QX products need not be physically attached to a smartphone, only near enough to communicate electronically. This week’s Illustration 1 shows a Sony QX100, with its relatively large size evident.

The QX100 is Sony’s flagship model, using the same sensor and good-quality Zeiss lens as Sony’s very popular RX100 II compact camera. The QX100 had more manual control capability than the less-expensive QX10 and QX30 models, which also substituted a more generic Sony lens for the higher-grade Zeiss zoom built into the QX100.

Although first to market, Sony’s QX series did not live up to expectations for a variety of reasons, including allegedly slow performance, physically large size approaching that of the compact cameras that it sought to replace, and an inability to save files in RAW format. Given Sony’s good engineering and tenacious marketing, I would be surprised if the QX models were allowed to simply fade away, rather than be replaced by more modern designs. Sony, after all, has a manufacturing cost advantage because it makes the sensors used by every other vendor in this market space.

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Kenai red fishing blues — Sockeye run slow to return but picking up

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mike Baker watches dip-netters at the north beach of the Kenai River on Monday evening, waiting for a sign that the fishing is picking up.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mike Baker watches dip-netters at the north beach of the Kenai River on Monday evening, waiting for a sign that the fishing is picking up.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The good news is that the bulk of the Kenai River late run of sockeye salmon might finally be making its appearance. The bad news is it’s too late for a lot of fishermen who annually target the third week of July to do their harvesting — as that tends to be when a mass of fish makes a push into the river.

“I think I’m just going to head back tonight. If it was better I mighta stayed longer. I’ll maybe try later. A lot of construction, though (on the drive),” said Mike Baker, of Anchorage.

Baker was sitting on the cooler he hoped to fill at the north beach of the Kenai River on Monday evening, watching hundreds of his fellow dip-netters standing — and waiting — out in the water.

“It’s pretty slow, just kind of hit or miss,” he said.

Fish counts underscore that assessment. The sockeye sonar counter in the Kenai River posted unimpressive numbers over the weekend — 17,500 fish Friday and 20,000 Sunday. The number jumped a bit Monday to 49,000 fish, but that only brought the cumulative total of late-run Kenai River sockeye to just under 300,000 fish — not nearly as many as would have returned by this point in a more typical run.

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