The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Alaska just as companies involved in processing salmon are preparing for the summer fisheries.
For Kwik’Pak, which operates a plant in Emmonak that processes Yukon River salmon, the decisions are tough. The company’s general manager, Jack Schultheis, says that he and his staff are going ahead with purchasing the gear and material needed to operate the plant this season. They have to in order to meet the deadline for the spring barge delivery to Emmonak. The bigger question is if it will be safe to operate a commercial fishery in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which experts expect to be in full swing in a couple of months.
Schultheis says that they will not be bringing a large crew into Emmonak because most people working at the Kwik’Pak processor live in the village. Only a handful of staff come in from outside, but even that, he says, may be a problem. A lot depends on how bad the pandemic gets in the next two months. Schultheis says that Kiwk’Pak’s Emmonak processing plant will not operate this summer unless it’s safe and villagers support it.
Kwik’Pak is often the only commercial operation buying salmon on the lower part of the Yukon River.