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 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 had 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.”