Efforts to Meet Yukon River Villagers’ Need for Salmon Continue

Help in the form of thousands of pounds of wild Alaska salmon is coming to Yukon River villagers, where freezers by now are normally filled with Chinook and keta salmon, but many more fish will be needed to fill a gap in a year when fishing was banned.

About 12,500 pounds of chum salmon were delivered to the Yup’ik village of Emmonak on the Lower Yukon on Aug. 10 by Everts Air Cargo, courtesy of the state of Alaska. They came in the wake of some 13,000 pounds of Chinooks delivered less than two weeks earlier, that were the gift of six major Bristol Bay seafood processers.

The Prince William Sound chums from Copper River Seafoods were purchased by the state. Once delivered to Emmonak, the fish were being repackaged and distributed by Kwik’Pak Fisheries, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, before transport via Ryan Air and skiffs owned by area harvesters to villages on the Lower Yukon.

Money for the fish and transport to Emmonak came from Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s authorization of $75,000 from the ADF&G’s food security enhancement project, funded through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The governor’s office said that additional deliveries to the region would be announced in the coming weeks.

Much more salmon will be needed though to match the usual subsistence harvests, a traditional and cultural staple in villages from the mouth of the Yukon to the Canadian border.

There have been many years when commercial harvests of the river’s oil rich keta salmon and kings were restricted to sustain the fishery in years of low runs. But Jack Schultheis, manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries in Emmonak, says he can’t remember when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had to close all commercial and subsistence fishing, due to such low returns of these fish.

The chums purchased by the state were actually already committed to other buyers, “but in our company Alaskans come first,” said Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods.

“It’s always Alaskans first,” said Blake, who grew up fishing in Cordova.

“We took some fish from other committed programs. We always want to support Alaskans first. I’ve done business with people out there in Emmonak and they always supported Copper River Seafoods,” he said.

Schultheis said the state’s donation of chums was “truly a relief for the folks out here who depend on fish to get through the winter.

“Most impressive was how fast the governor’s office put this together, especially considering in only a matter of days the families here in the Lower Yukon will have the fish,” he said.

Kudos also came from Vivian Korthuis, chief executive officer of the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel. “The donation will not fill the freezers up, but the salmon is very appreciated,” Korthuis said. “We are grateful,” she said, acknowledging the teamwork it took to get the salmon from where they were caught to delivery and distribution to families along the Lower Yukon.

“Quyana (thank you) on behalf of the region,”
she said.