Six major processors of Bristol Bay salmon collaborated in late July to gather and transport to Yukon River villages 25,000 pounds of headed and gutted king salmon, a diet staple for hundreds of folks living in subsistence communities along the river.
The project came together in the midst of a wildly successful Bristol Bay salmon harvest, with a yield of over 40 million sockeye salmon. Meanwhile on the Yukon River, all fishing including subsistence, was banned by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game because of weak runs of Chinook and keta salmon.
Officials from Alaska General Seafoods, Leader Creek Fisheries, North Pacific Seafoods, OBI Seafoods (Ocean Beauty/Icicle), Silver Bay Seafoods and Trident Seafoods asked SeaShare executive director Jim Harmon to help with coordination and tracking of the fish, which was being delivered to Emmonak and Fairbanks for distribution to surrounding subsistence communities.
“None of this relief effort would have happened without the help of all these companies,” said Harmon. “Collaboratively they are providing 100,000 servings of seafood to the Yukon, all at zero cost to the receiving communities.”
“When it comes to feeding hungry people, the general rule of thumb is you do what you need to do to get the job done,” Harmon said. “And when it comes to feeding those in need in Alaska, it takes an entire industry, from fishermen to processors to transportation, to get the job done.”
Transportation was coordinated by Jim Jansen of Lynden Inc., which worked with Northern Air Cargo and Everts to get the fish to Emmonak and Fairbanks. ADF&G also helped cover some of the air freight charges.
In a normal year, families along the Yukon would put up 45 to 100 kings caught in the subsistence fishery for the winter, smoked and dried, said Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries at Emmonak.
“They have not had a chance to do that (this year). It is more of a cultural thing. Nobody is going to stare, but that is how they have lived here for a couple of thousand years,” he said.
With no work harvesting and processing Chinook and keta salmon, Kwik’Pak, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, has turned a new venture in farming, with help from a $350,000 grant from the Rasmuson Foundation in Anchorage. Twenty-seven high school students from Emmonak were employed to build some 3,000 square feet of greenhouse space.
The farm is expected to create jobs for up to 75 youth and boost local access to fresh produce, including potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, beans, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins, Schultheis said. Arctic apple and pear trees are also being planted, but they could still use more salmon, he added.