KYUK AM

Kuskokwim Bay Commercial Fishery Processing At Capacity

Jul 27, 2020

Silver salmon fills the bottom of a boat during a subsistence opening in August 2016 near Bethel.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

The Kuskokwim Bay commercial fishery has been operating for nearly a month. It moved to 12-hour openings every other day, beginning last week.

Seattle-based E&E Foods is buying and processing the salmon on a ship anchored in Goodnews Bay. Chief Operating Officer Ken Ng says that the ship can handle 70,000 pounds of fish per day, and it’s often been buying more than that during recent openings.

“Daily purchases tend to be higher than their daily capacity, but that’s fine because they have two days to process the fish,” Ng said.

Ng said that about 70% of that poundage is sockeye salmon. The rest is divided between chum and kings, with coho expected to arrive by the beginning of August.

The number of fishermen participating in the fishery has grown from 25 fishing the first openings, to 70. The majority are in Quinhagak, with the rest in Goodnews Bay. E&E wouldn’t disclose how much the fishermen are paid per pound of salmon, but called the price “competitive” and said that fishermen can get extra cash.

“We do have an incentive program out there that the more pounds they deliver, they get bonuses on top of that," Ng said. "So it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The salmon will mostly be sold frozen in grocery stores since the pandemic has reduced the demand from restaurants.

The commercial fishery is certified as fair trade, which means it meets a high standard for sustainability and labor practices, with a low environmental impact. Most of the salmon will be marketed under that fair trade label, which customers pay more for, and which sends more money back to the fishing crews.

E&E has been operating a “no contact” fishery throughout the pandemic. The fishing crews don’t board the tender or the processor, and the crews on the vessels don’t enter the communities.

Correction: The spelling of Ken Ng's name has been corrected.