Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Forecast is for Strong Summer Chum Harvest on Lower Yukon

By Margaret Bauman

A dreary Chinook forecast aside, fishermen on the Lower Yukon River are anticipating a robust run of oil-rich summer chum salmon to fill market orders both domestically and in Europe.

“We have good markets,” said Jack Schultheis, sales manager for Kwik’Pak, at Emmonak, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association. The big question was how well buyers in England would respond to change, what with the state of Alaska embracing Global Trust over the Marine Stewardship Council to conduct third party certification of Alaska salmon fisheries.

Schultheis said in an interview June 4 that he expected to have 500 commercial fishing permit holders from the Lower Yukon River beginning to deliver their harvest once the fishery opened in late June.

That harvest, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is projected at a potential 500,000 to one million salmon. The fall chum surplus potentially available for commercial harvest is anticipated at 500,000 to 700,000 fish. Schultheis said he anticipates prices to fishermen will be about the same as those paid in 2011, 75 cents a pound for summer chum and one dollar a pound for fall chum.

No directed harvest of king salmon was anticipated.

Alaska’s wild salmon certification through the Marine Stewardship Council ends in October, and the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation has selected Global Trust to do its third party certification after that. AFDF made that decision in January after nine processors, including Kwik’Pak decided to pull the stopper on funds for third party certification through MSC, verifying that theirs is a sustainable fishery that adheres to best practices.

Alaska processors have expressed much concern over the past few years over the need to distinguish Alaska’s wild seafood from other wild seafood certified by MSC, to maintain the Alaska brand from a state where sustainability of seafood is mandated in the state constitution.

In April, the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association in Seattle, which represents many fishing vessel owners operating on the West Coast and in Alaska, opted to be the new MSC client for certification of Alaska’s salmon fisheries.

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell has defended the state’s decision to offer sustainable salmon certification through Ireland-based Global Trust, saying there was great concern over one party seeking control of the certification process. Campbell did not mention either MSC or Global Trust in her comments made during the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Belgium.

Kwik’Pak has worked hard to establish good markets both domestically and in Japan, as well as Europe, including the United Kingdom.

The majority of its headed and gutted fish are sold domestically and in Japan, while a lot of chum fillets are told in Europe and US markets. In the UK, the filets go to grocery stores, and the company Kwik’Pak works with has done a tremendous job supporting Alaska salmon, Schultheis said.

“They have Alaska salmon in the three largest groceries in the UK and they have really marketed and pushed the fish really hard in those grocery stores. The volume of product, fresh frozen product, has increased a couple hundred percent over five years,” he said. “They market this fish, got shelf space for it.”

The task before Kwik’Pak now is convincing these UK buyers that third party certification by Global Trust, which has in fact worked to certify fisheries for MSC, provides the same level of certification as MSC.

Eco-labels are very strong in the UK, on fish, eggs and meat, Schultheis said.

Years back, when sustainability became a big issue, the large grocery chains of the UK poured millions of dollars into promoting the MSC policy. Now Kwik’Pak is having individual meetings with its UK buyers to explain that the seafood standards that must be met for certification by Global Trust are equal to those of MSC.

“If the state (of Alaska) says this is the policy, I’m going to abide by that,” he said.

“I consider it to be a state policy that the state has decided to drop out of the MSC program. Regardless of what I personally think, sustainability is the state policy and I am supporting the state in that decision,” he said. Margaret Bauman can be reached at

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