(Soldotna) – The 26th annual Kenai River Classic, August 22 – 24, 2018, hosted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA), featured the nation’s top fisheries administrator and an emphasis on water safety. The Classic is one of Alaska’s premier fishing events held in August on the Kenai River to raise funds and educate high-level policymakers and business leaders about sportfishing and KRSA’s conservation efforts. Chris Oliver, the assistant administrator of NOAA Fisheries, was the keynote speaker at the Classic Roundtable on Fisheries prior to the event. Classic sponsors Yamaha Marine and ExxonMobil teamed up to provide every participant in the event with a Mustang Personal Floatation Device (PFD) to promote the importance of water safety while fishing on the Kenai River.
At the Classic Roundtable, Oliver discussed the importance of fisheries research as the foundation of sustainable fisheries in the United States and policy initiatives under his direction this past year as the head of NOAA Fisheries. The fisheries discussion then turned to research initiatives at the State of Alaska Salmon and People (SASAP) project, the impacts of the statewide decline of king salmon on rural communities from the perspective of three Alaska Salmon Fellows, and market-based approaches to compensated reallocation of fish between commercial and sport fishing sectors. Oliver and the eight panelists were engaging and delivered a great program. The room at Kenai Peninsula College was filled with sport and commercial fishermen, scientists, and policymakers. Everyone walked away with a better understanding of the science and policies currently at play in Alaska fisheries.
Following the Classic Roundtable, the Classic Welcome Reception kicked off the event with a special feature from sponsors Yamaha and ExxonMobil who generously provided every participant with a Classic PFD, as part of an ongoing effort to promote water safety on the Kenai River. The Classic PFDs were featured auction items at the Classic banquet and auction the following night, with more than 300 people in attendance.
Funds raised through participant and sponsor fees, and auction proceeds are used for habitat restoration, angler access and education, fisheries management and research, and other conservation efforts on the Kenai River and other Southcentral Alaska watersheds. This year the event raised more than $200,000 for KRSA’s fishery conservation programs. The Kenai River Classic also gave an especially important boost to the local economy. The three-day fundraising event contributed more than $250,000 to the Kenai/Soldotna economy through participant lodging, food, guides, tours and transportation. More than 100 dedicated volunteers and local businesses donated time, services and auction items to make the Classic a success.
“The Kenai River Classic continues to raise awareness with Alaska companies and policymakers when it comes to how crucial fisheries sustainability and education is to the future of the Kenai River,” said KRSA Board Chairman Bill Eckhardt.
The 100 Classic participants and guests also had the opportunity to attend a legislative update discussion on fishery, parks and transportation issues. At the meeting, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Alaska State Parks provided updates on important responsible angler access projects on the Kenai River and an overview how each agency was modernizing their public services. Alaska state senator Peter Micciche provided an update on efforts for a $50 million voluntary fleet reduction program for Cook Inlet set net sites, and Alaska Department of Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken provided an update on the final record of decision on the Cooper Landing Bypass. Classic participants also attended two barbecues and fished two days for silver salmon.
The Classic Stevens Silver Salmon Cup award went to state representative Lora Reinbold for her 16.2-pound silver salmon. Second place went to Revy Mack at 13.4-pounds, while Chad Taylor of UBS Financial Services came in third place with a 13.3-pound silver. Kenai River Guide Scott Blahnik won the Yamaha “Celebrate the Guides” Luck of the Draw 50 HP Yamaha engine, while Rick Richardson won 2nd place recognition of $1,000, and Kasey Loomis won 3rd place recognition of $500.