The first commercial fishing openers on Yukon River salmon will come around mid-June, and with a forecast of average to above average runs of both summer and fall chums, Kwik’Pak Fisheries is optimistic about a good season.
“It looks very good for chum runs,” said Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries LLC, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, in an interview in early May. “Our markets with Yukon fish are very stable. We have preseason contracts going into the year.
Buyers in the UK (United Kingdom) take up about half of Kwik’Pak’s production, so there has been some concern over who is certifying those salmon for sustainability, he noted. One of the chain stores insists that its fish must be Marine Stewardship Council certified, but the other stores will take the RFM (Responsible Fisheries Management) fish certified under the state of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries management certification program, via the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, he said. Schultheis said he was told by one buyer that for the most part the state’s RFM certification is being accepted in European markets.
Kwik’Pak Fisheries, essentially a community based business formed by six local villages, employed 542 people in the region for the 2012 fisheries and had deliveries from 442 active fishing permits, Schultheis said. For the 2013 season they expect about the same, he said.
Income from the commercial fisheries allows people in this predominantly Yupik Eskimo region to continue to have the traditional lifestyle they have led for thousands of years, hunting and fishing and living off the land.
Kwik’Pak is also continuing its youth employment project, in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which has provided some grant funding and been very supportive of the program.
Last year Alaska Commissioner of Labor Dianne Blumer attended a job fair at Emmonak, where Kwik’Pak processing facilities are based, and gave an address to youth in attendance. “It was the first time a commissioner of labor has ever been anywhere near the Lower Yukon,” Schultheis said. “I was surprised someone would take that much time to come down and show the concern. The kids even commented that it wasn’t a ‘hurry up I have a plane to catch’ event,” he said.
Last year, 220 youths in the Emmonak area of the Lower Yukon found employment at Kwik’Pak during the salmon harvest season, a successful effort for all, he said. “The kids get employment and we get some really decent workers.”
Kwik’Pak keeps track of these young workers, even after they’ve graduated from high school, he said. “I think we have 32 of them in college this year, and we go out of the way to recruit them to come back in the summer. We try to find them a job in their field of study. It’s a big part of what we do out here, working with the kids.”
While there is optimism for the oil-rich Yukon summer and fall chum harvests, the outlook is bleak again for the famed Yukon kings. State fisheries officials said that the Chinook salmon projection is for a run size range of 96,000 to 142,000 fish. The lower end of this range is below the run size observed in 2012.
Given a forecast of poor to below average returns of king salmon for yet another year, no commercial Chinook fishery is anticipated. Subsistence fishing on the first pulse of king salmon will be closed and based on preseason projects of a weak run, biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that closure is likely to be extended to protect the second pulse of kings, for a closure of about 10 days.
For the 2013 season, the US/Canada Yukon River Panel agreed to continue interim management escapement goals of 42,500-55,000 Chinook salmon and 70,000-104,000 fall chum salmon, based on the Eagle sonar program. In addition, some 5,000 kings and a minimum of 10,000 fall chum salmon must cross the border to Canada to fulfill harvest-sharing commitments specified in the US/Canada Yukon River Agreement.