An increased number of commercial fishermen on Alaska’s Lower Yukon River are expected to be using dipnets this summer to harvest chum salmon, in a continuous effort to avoid king salmon, for whom there will be no commercial fishery.
“Chum runs are forecast as healthy, and we expect a good commercial harvest of chums,” says Jack Schultheis, sales manager for Kwik’pak Fisheries, in Emmonak.
Kwik’pak Fisheries, a subsidiary of Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, is a community-based firm formed by the people in six Yupik Eskimo villages along the Lower Yukon. Harvesters are provided with ice and insulated totes to keep the fish cold, and each fish is bled and iced immediately to preserve freshness.
Markets are already lining up for oil rich chums, about half of which will be sold in domestic markets, with the other half going to Europe and Asia.
For the domestic market, the chums are sold mostly as fillets, with some headed and gutted, Schultheis said. The European market is all fillets and the Asia market all headed and gutted.
The key to the company’s growing market, Schultheis said, is bringing customers to the Yukon Delta to see for themselves that this region is really like. “Once people come here, it makes such an impression on them,” he said. “They are enamored by it.
It’s overwhelming. They see it is a small boat fishery. It’s families, not a cowboy fishery. These are low income Native families trying to get by… people proud of their fish.
“They are doing it just to get by and they take a lot of pride in what they are doing,” Schultheis said. The customers see this and it makes them more loyal, better customers, he said.
For now, the company and the fish harvesters are busy getting ready for the coming summer and fall chum runs, and the harvest of thousands of fish.
Schultheis said he sees the markets as strong, particularly with inventories low, and, prices may also improve upward this year.