There are three buyers on the Yukon River this summer paying for chum salmon. In District 1 of the river, Kwik'Pak Fisheries, the largest processor on the river, is buying for its plant in Emmonak. The company has been a regular player on the Yukon since it was established in 2001 by the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association. Jack Schultheis, the company’s operations manager, says, “Fishing has picked up during this opener since water levels went down, clearing some of the debris that had made fishing tough. Now that it’s easier, more people are out fishing.”
Dipnets are the commercial gear on the lower Yukon. The commercial chum opening is scheduled to close at noon on Tuesday, June 19, but the state has ordered another opening to begin 12 hours later at a minute after midnight. The 58-hour opening will close at 10 a.m. on Friday, June 22.
Kwik'Pak is owned by the Lower Yukon Community Development Quota group, set up under federal legislation to use a portion of income from offshore fisheries to develop local economies on shore. Kwik'Pak is also buying in District 2 of the Yukon at Mountain Village.
There are two buyers this season stationed at St. Mary’s, providing a market for the communities of Mountain Village, St. Mary’s, Pitkas Point, Pilot Station, and Marshall. Boreal Fisheries is back. It did not operate last year while the former owners looked for a buyer for their company; International Seafoods in Kodiak bought the operation. No stranger to Alaska, Boreal’s new manager Jeff Allen says, "I and the crew are in St. Mary’s to stay till September buying fish.”
They are not only buying fish, but they seem to also be concerned about leaving a caffeine-laden sweet taste in the mouths of those who catch fish for them. They are offering Mountain Dew and hot dogs to delivering fishermen. Allen says that so far, the “fishing is solid and increasing in the lower river”.
The other company, Fish People, based in Oregon, set up for the first time last summer to buy fish in St. Mary’s and were there early and ready this season. Last year, their first on the Yukon, was one that might deter more timid companies. Fish People had some significant infrastructure issues to overcome, like getting power to its operation and consistent service from the local airport at St. Mary’s. This year, the power is in place and the airport is functioning, although there is concern that if the old gravel airstrip doesn’t get some paving, operators may choose to discontinue service to St. Mary’s.
Commercial chum fishing is open for 12-hour periods in District 2 on Tuesday June 19, the following Wednesday, and then again Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The openings run from noon to midnight each day. Fishermen must have a confirmed buyer before fishing and all kings caught must be released alive.