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Kuskokwim Bay fishermen lose out on summer income after fish buyer fails to secure a processing boat

Boats in Quinhagak
Krysti Shallenberger
Without a processor, there’s no one to buy fish, and so there is no commercial fishing in region.

Fishers in Kuskokwim Bay usually make a large portion of their annual revenue catching and selling salmon bound for the Kanektok River. But this summer, that's not an option.

The local commercial fishing cooperative in Kuskokwim Bay was not able to contract a processing boat. Without a processor, there’s no one to buy fish, and so there is no commercial fishing in the region. Larry Strunk, a long time commercial fisherman in Quinhagak, said that’s a big bummer for the communities.

“People were excited about fishing. And then when we couldn't get a processor, it really hurt the local economy,” said Strunk.

This is not the first year that the Kuskokwim Bay region has been without a processor. Previously, the Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF) served that function in the community. When they pulled out in 2016, it left the region without a company to buy its fish.

Local fishers then organized into a cooperative in order to hire a processor. They signed a contract with E&E Seafoods, a company out of Seattle, in 2020.

To process fish in Kuskokwim Bay, E&E had been leasing unused processing boats from the commercial cod industry and sending them to the region. But this year, they were unable to find any processing boats to lease because of an extended cod fishing season. That’s according to E&E President Randy Patrick.

“We wish we were there, but unfortunately that’s just the way it went this year,” said Patrick.

When E&E was buying fish in Kuskokwim Bay, the local commercial fishermen brought in $605,000 in revenue in 2020 and $442,750 in 2021. That money went to co-op members from Quinhagak, Eek, Platinum, and Goodnews Bay. Strunk said that there’s no way to make up the lost income.

“There's not really jobs around to do that,” said Strunk.

But Strunk said that the cooperative is trying to get funds to build a processor of its own so that it doesn’t have to rely on outside companies.

Olivia Ebertz is a News Reporter for KYUK. She also works as a documentary filmmaker. She enjoys learning languages, making carbs, and watching movies.
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