Yukon River’s Kwik’Pak Fisheries Optimistic About 2021 Harvest Potential

Officials with Kwik’Pak Fisheries, near the mouth of the Yukon River in western Alaska, say they’re looking forward to a full fishing season in the summer of 2021, taking delivery from its 300 small boat Yupik Eskimo harvesters of the oil-rich keta salmon.

The keta salmon harvested by Kwik’Pak, a subsidiary of Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, navigate annually up to 2,000 miles of cold, powerful currents to where the Bering Sea meets the mouth of the Yukon.

Manager Jack Schultheis says that the company, which is now in its 20th year at Emmonak, is looking forward to a full fishing season, after just three openings last summer.

The fishing season for Kwik’Pak is expected to start from mid-to-late June, officials say, with the 300 to 400 processing employees hailing from Emmonak and other villages on the Lower Yukon.

The fishery begins with harvesters using dipnets to catch keta salmon until the Alaska Department of Fish and Game confirms that enough Chinook salmon have escaped upriver toward to the Canadian border to meet treaty requirements. Then the gillnet fishery begins.

The department wants to conserve every king that they can and we are going to work with them because that’s what we have to do, Schultheis said.

Kwik’Pak also operates a youth training program at the processing facility. Last year, it trained 25 youths in a cross-section of jobs at their processing facility. This year, Schultheis said, plans are to hire 100 or more youths during the fishing season.

Masks will not be required at the processing facility, but all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Schultheis said staff from the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation are coming to Emmonak to vaccinate everyone who needs shots.

“The harvest projection from ADF&G makes us feel good,” he said, adding that projections are for four million pounds of commercial salmon harvest after subsistence needs are met.

“We will have fish to sell. We’ll be in the market. People will have jobs,” he stated.

About 30% of Kwik’Pak’s harvest is sold in domestic market, mostly as fillets, and there are also plans to promote as much smoked keta salmon as possible, according to the company.

There is also a very strong demand for Alaska salmon across the board, including the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium, France, and of course into Japan, Schultheis explained. European sales are about half fillets and half headed and gutted, he said, while Japan takes all H&G.