There will be commercial chum salmon fishing in the Yukon River this year. KwikPak is going to buy and process fish this summer for its Emmonak plant. But this year, the operation will have a whole lot less interaction with the community.
The company has been working with Emmonak and the state, along with health care providers at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, to come up with a plan to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two weeks before KwikPak staff begin arriving in Emmonak at the end of the month, they’ll do hard quarantine in Anchorage, with tests to make sure they’re free of the coronavirus before taking chartered flights to the village. When they land in Emmonak, they’ll head directly to the processing plant to stay until fishing ends, eating and working together without leaving.
Darren Swain, Medical and Safety Director for KwikPak, says, “We have the necessary equipment and will keep our distance, with no contact with locals.”
On the river, fishermen will deliver to Kiwkpak’s tender as they have in the past, but crews receiving the fish will be wearing gloves to winch totes on board to unload salmon. There’s usually at least 6 feet or more between the people on the larger tender boat and the fishermen in their skiffs. The big difference this summer is that there will be no jumping on board each other’s boats to socialize.
One of the many details being worked out is how fishermen will get paid without making contact.
If someone gets sick with COVID-19, the company plans to isolate them before medivacing them. Swain says that the schedules and rules will make contact tracing easy.
General Manager Jack Schultheis says, “KwikPak has community support behind it, or else this wouldn’t be happening.”