How The Kuskokwim Bay Commercial Fishery Will Operate This Season
This will be the second year that Seattle-based E&E Foods is purchasing salmon from local fishermen in Kuskokwim Bay. Fishermen and fish buyers are optimistic that the Kuskokwim Bay commercial fishery will build on the success of last year.
E&E Foods Chief Operating Officer Ken Ng said that his company purchased over a million pounds of salmon from Kuskokwim Bay fishermen last year.
“We hope to purchase more,” Ng said of this year.
Ng said that the pandemic reduced the demand for salmon last year, but with restaurants and the economy reopening, he is optimistic that the demand for salmon will be higher this season. He said that E&E’s processing ship in Goodnews Bay can handle 70,000 pounds of salmon per day, which is the same capacity as the ship that was there last year. The fish will be frozen before being shipped out of the region, and most will end up in grocery stores.
E&E will be purchasing chum, king, red and silver salmon. Ng said that it was too early to know what fishermen will be paid for their catch, but said that they would be compensated competitively.
“Should be at least around the pricing of last year,” Ng said.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that E&E purchased king and red salmon for 55 cents per pound, chum for 45 cents per pound, and silver for 15 cents per pound last year.
Ng said that the fish tender ship would be in Kuskokwim Bay by June 25, and that the processing vessel would arrive June 30. He said that all E&E employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but that they would still get tested for the virus before boarding the tender and processing vessels.
The company will also continue COVID-19 precautions from last year. E&E again will be operating a “no contact” fishery. That means that fishermen cannot board either the tender or the processor, and E&E employees don’t enter the communities.
E&E will be buying salmon exclusively from fishermen who are approved by the Independent Fishermen of Quinhagak Cooperative (IFQC). The group revived commercial salmon fishing in Kuskokwim Bay last year after a five year hiatus. Around 70 fishermen participated in last year’s fishery.
“We're anticipating a bit more this year,” said IFQC Chairman John Mark. He said that he has already received applications to commercial fish from people who didn’t participate last summer.
“There was a lot of hesitancy amongst the fishermen whether or not the fishery was going to actually happen or not. And it went very well,” Mark said.
Mark also said that the fishermen who participated in last year’s commercial fishery are more familiar with bleeding and icing the fish, which can earn them bonuses from E&E. These industry practices preserve the quality of the salmon.
Currently, IFQC only permits people from Quinhagak, Goodnews Bay, Platinum, and Eek to participate in the Kuskokwim Bay commercial fishery. Mark said that’s because E&E can only purchase so much fish. But the cooperative has long-term goals to start buying salmon from fishermen itself. Mark said that way, the cooperative can allow fishermen from other villages to participate in the commercial fishery too.
“It's going to be a long process,” Mark said.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Ben Gray said that commercial fishing openings in Kuskokwim Bay would likely begin sometime in July.
Correction: An earlier verison of this story stated that E&E salmon was flown out of the region. It is actually shipped out by vessels.