Commercial harvesters on Alaska’s Lower Yukon River netted 365,000 summer chum salmon through July 16 - 52 percent of them caught in dip nets.
Former Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee Gene Sandone, who proposed using dip nets early in the summer run, so that king salmon could be released unharmed, says he is flabbergasted with the success of the fishery. Sandone is a fisheries consultant for Kwik’Pak Fisheries at Emmonak, and proposed a test fishery last summer using dip nets for openers where the harvest of those Yukon kings was illegal. He said he hadn’t counted on the ingenuity of some fishermen, who tied more than one dip net to their boat and drifted with the tide, catching a lot of fish.
Kwik’Pak sales manager Jack Schultheis, who oversees operations at Emmonak, also was elated. The 2.2 million pounds catch of summer chum is the most summer chum the company has ever done and over half of that was dip net caught, he said.
About half the catch is processed as vacuum packed fillets and is shipped to Europe. The other half – headed and gutted – goes to domestic and European companies for reprocessing as portions or steaks for retail markets.
The overall impact of introducing the dip net fishery was that more harvesters were able to start fishing earlier and because of the steady catch, it was quite a labor field day for other company workers, he said.
July 15 was the last opener for the summer chum run and harvesters are now fishing for the Yukon River fall chum run, fish with a higher oil content that get a higher price. And with the demand up for those Yukon River chum, Schultheis said the company is getting a better price for a couple of reasons. One is the higher price of sockeye salmon, he said, buyers were looking for other high quality salmon that will come in under the price of sockeyes. The other reason is that when buyers realized the Bristol Bay harvest wasn’t going to reach 25 million fish this year, that set the tone for sales activity for the chums to pick up, he said. In some cases, the company was even able to run two shifts—a bonus for Lower Yukon communities where commercial fishing is the mainstay of the local economy.