Redoubt Reporter file photo by Joseph Robertia. House Bill 41 would reinstate licensing and log books requirements for all fishing guides in Alaska — including those on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers — as seen here guiding for kings. The previous program sunsetted in 2014.
By Jenny Neyman
Effectively, not much would change with the passage of House Bill 41, which would re-establish the fishing guide registration and logbook program in Alaska that sunsetted in 2014. And the biggest change — increasing the fee structure $50 to $100 for guides and guide businesses — didn’t get much response at a public meeting in Soldotna on Nov. 17, held by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to get feedback on the bill.
But guides did have comments to make on how the program works — or doesn’t, or could, at least, work better.
“There’s a degree of anxiety out there among guides that it’s going to get misused and they’ll end up becoming criminals because they didn’t do something quite right,” said Joe Connors, owner of Big Sky Charter and Fish Camp in Sterling. “Conditions — it’s rainy, it’s crappy, the wind’s blowing, somebody’s got a crying baby — whatever. The guide is trying to do his best and we want to make sure that you understand that.”
Andy Szczesny, owner of Alaska Fish and Float, who guides for resident species on the upper Kenai River, talked about pouring rain soaking the paper logbook sheets, and clients giving him fishing license information on a smartphone, where he can’t verify the information himself.
“It’s difficult at times. And believe it or not, we can make a mistake, and we could get a ticket, any one of us in this room that’s a guide. If you say you can’t, you’re better than me after 31 years doing this,” he said.
Szczesny and other guides at the meeting said the logging requirements are too cumbersome and the potential for fines too onerous.
Mel Erickson, of Alaska Gamefisher, runs halibut charters in the saltwater as well as river guiding for salmon. He said that it can be difficult for guides to complete the forms how and when they’re supposed to.
“You’re out there in the rough water and you’ve got six people you’re dealing with and some of them are puking, and some of them are scared. And then you get in and you’re trying to deal with that and they just want off the boat right away and there might be some stuff you don’t have filled out yet. Eventually, you’re going to get it filled out but sometimes the timing of it just doesn’t happen when it’s supposed to be done,” Erickson said.
To complicate matters, logbook requirements are different for salt water versus freshwater guiding, and the consequences for error can vary, as well. Five different agencies have authority to check logbooks. Citations issued by an Alaska agency — like Fish and Game or Alaska State Troopers Division of Wildlife — would incur fines according to the state bail schedule. Some federal agents are commissioned to write citations on behalf of the state of Alaska. But if others, like NOAA, issue a citation, it could go through federal court in Anchorage.
And if a citation is given in the Kenai River Special Management Area, the guide could be on the hook for further consequences from the state Parks department, including losing out on wages from a three-day suspension, Szczesny said. As a result, Szczesny said, some guides might throw away their logbook entry sheets and receipts if they think they could get a citation, and Fish and Game would lose out on that information.
“So you get a ticket, deal with it, then state Parks issues a three-day suspension deal. It’s like a double jeopardy thing, like a $3,000 fine plus your fee. As a guide, I do not want to get a ticket with dealing with this crap,” Szczesny said. “… If a guy thinks there’s a chance he might get a ticket, all he has to do is pull out those white copies and throw them away. And you have to realize that’s happened, a lot, because they’re late. That shouldn’t be a thing that you want happening if you want the information to be good,” he said Continue reading