A strong harvest of succulent fall chum salmon is cheering Lower Yukon River commercial fishermen, easing the economic pain of a restricted summer chum harvest required for escapement of king salmon to Canada.
“It’s as good or better than last year, which was a record year for us,” said Jack Schultheis, sales manager for Kwik’Pak Fisheries, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association.
“The fall run is turning out to be really good for us,” Schultheis said. “We did more fall fish than we did a year ago, so we were really happy with how that turned out.
“It was a good, healthy run this year and the fish showed it, a little bigger than average. It wasn’t the best ever, but it was darn good.”
As of Sept. 14, the preliminary harvest total for the Lower Yukon was 473,000 chum and 68,000 silver salmon, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Commercial as well as subsistence fisheries are critical to the economy of Emmonak, where Kwik’Pak’s fish processing facilities are based, as well as other villages along the Lower Yukon River. The area lies in the Wade Hampton Census Area, which has one of the highest areas of unemployment in the state. Residents, predominantly Yup’ik Eskimos, have harvested wild salmon here for thousands of years.
Schultheis said much of the fall chum salmon harvest delivered to Kwik’Pak was filleted, while the rest was headed and gutted. About half of the harvest went to buyers in the United States, and the rest to overseas markets.
Demand for the oil-rich Yukon summer and fall chum continues to exceed supply, Schultheis said.