In Western Alaska, chum salmon stocks have sharply declined over the last two years. That’s a problem, because people in the region depend heavily on the fish for food and for work. Scientists are in the early stages of trying to understand the crash.
For decades, Kwik’Pak Fisheries in Emmonak has provided reliable summer employment in one of the state’s most unemployed regions. The company is the only fish processor on the Yukon River. But with salmon runs low and commercial fishing closed, it’s offering few jobs this summer. Commercial fishermen and women are feeling the economic stress, and those who are still working at the plant have had to transition to new roles.
Usually, Kwik’pak Fisheries, the only commercial fish processor on the Yukon, sells salmon around the world. After the Yukon’s main salmon species started dwindling to record lows last year, Kwik’pak had to pivot to stay afloat.
For eight years, Tanya Ives has been traveling up from Washington each summer to work at the Yukon River’s only fish processing plant: Kwik’Pak Fisheries. The plant sits outside of Emmonak at the river’s mouth. Normally at this time of year, Ives would be packing up chum salmon harvested by commercial fishermen along the Yukon River to sell around the world. But this summer, she’s doing the opposite.
The entire Kuskokwim River will open full-time to subsistence fishing with gillnets beginning at 12:01 a.m. on July 31. At that time, gillnet restrictions on the river will be liberalized to include any size mesh, and nets can stretch up to 50 fathoms in length.