Kwik'Pak Nets Record Harvest of Yukon Chum Salmon
Kwik’Pak Fisheries, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, brought in more than one million chum salmon during the summer and fall of 2016, achieving a record harvest, says Jack Schultheis, general manager.
“Things went well for us as far as fishing goes,” Schultheis said. “We were just very fortunate.
A fire of undetermined cause destroyed Kwik’Pak’s main office building and bunkhouses in March, but all other facilities remained intact and Kwik’Pak was ready for the fishing season, which began June 7 and ran through Sept. 10.
“Both runs were either average or above average in size, and the fish were very robust looking, very healthy,” Schultheis said. “We got a lot of compliments from customers on the size, quality and appearance of the fish.”
Sales also went well, he said, including with buyers in the United Kingdom.
England’s vote to leave the European Union notwithstanding, Kwik’Pak still supplied its customers in the UK with product.
“Historically they are one of our strongest and biggest customers,” Schultheis said. “We look at customers more as partners and not just who pays us the most from year to year. We made sure they had enough product to cover their markets for this year. It was more than adequate.”
New England Seafoods, the wholesale distributor from the UK, which buys all pinbone-out fillets, sends their salmon purchasing manager and quality control people to Emmonak, Alaska, every summer, and sometimes they spend half the summer there. “This was the fourth season where they came up and helped us with quality guidelines,” Schultheis said. “They have an investment in the fishery as well as in time and marketing. They are our largest customers.”
Schultheis also sold into domestic markets, with fillets and headed and gutted keta salmon. Most of that fish goes to retail, grocery chains and some restaurants.
Prices were 10 percent to 20 percent higher than last year, “and it helped us fill in the gaps,” he said. “The cost of operating in Western Alaska is really high. The market increase helped offset the cost of working out west.”
Schultheis also credited management efforts of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the fact that those Yukon River chum runs have rebuilt themselves to historical sizes.
“We fished from June 7 to Sept. 10 steadily,” he said. “There were times when we fished six days a week. Four days a week was the norm. I attribute this to all the conservation efforts” (of ADF&G), he said. “We now have good, solid runs. They have stabilized historically.
“We dip-netted up until June 25 and switched to gillnets on June 26, which was a week sooner than we gillnetted last year, because the king run was better and they (ADF&G) weren’t as concerned about us catching any kings in gillnets.”
In order to assure escapement of enough king salmon up the Yukon to the Canadian border, to comply with treaty obligations with Canada, commercial fishermen on the Lower Yukon use dip nets at the start of the summer fishery to avoid catching any Chinook salmon. After June 26, harvesters can keep kings caught in their drift nets, but may not sell them.
Kwik’Pak had a total of 496 permit holders fishing this year, and for the season employed a total of 605 people, including some 185 high school students, Schultheis said. Given the length of the season and amount of product produced, they just needed more workers.
The number of people that Kwik’Pak, a community development quota fishery, can employ is important, Schultheis said.
“I can’t express the importance socially, economically and culturally” (of the fishery), he said. “To the people here, it’s more than just money to them. It’s a way of life to them. That’s the one thing that impresses me.
“In other fisheries, everyone goes home (after the season ends). Out here it is their home. When the fishery is over, they start putting up food for the winter.”
Schultheis said that overall the average worker and harvester working with Kwik’Pak in 2016 made about 30 percent to 50 percent more than last year.
“It sure helped the people,” he said. “Workers were really happy. They had plenty of work all the time.”