Salmon Donations to Yukon River Villages Spread Pretty Thin

Donations of thousands of pounds of chum salmon are coming to Alaska’s Yukon River villages, but the big gap left when record low fish runs resulted in a ban on all commercial and subsistence fishing remains a challenge.

Overall donations from commercial processors and the state of Alaska through the third week of September were about 94,000 pounds, according to processors and the office of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

That amounts to about five to 10 fish per household, probably closer to five, said Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries in Emmonak. Most Yukon River household puts up 50 to 150 chums a year and maybe 20 to 25 kings, depending on family size, he said. Yukon River residents fish commercially and for subsistence, but there were not enough fish for the harvest of either this summer or fall.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists noted in a Sept. 20 fall fishery update that the Yukon River fall chum and coho salmon runs were the lowest on record. Neither run size met the threshold of 300,000 fish needed to allow subsistence, personal use or commercial fishing in the Yukon.

As of mid-September, the collaborative efforts of several commercial seafood processors in Kodiak and Bristol Bay, the U.S. Coast Guard, Lynden Transport, Everts Air Cargo and the government of Alaska had resulted in delivery of about 83,000 pounds of salmon to Emmonak on the Lower Yukon and Fairbanks, for the Upper Yukon for distribution to villages in their area.

Word of the pending fish shortage for salmon dependent villages all along the Yukon River spread quickly after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed subsistence and commercial fishing for chum and king salmon.

As the Bristol Bay salmon fishery drew to a close in July five seafood processors—Alaska General Seafoods, Leader Creek, North Pacific, and OBI—came together at King Salmon to donate 25,000 pounds of frozen king salmon to the Yukon River villages. They asked Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, to coordinate delivery of the fish to Emmonak and Fairbanks. Jim Jansen, chairman of Lynden Inc., Northern Air Cargo and Everts Air Cargo joined in to donate delivery of the fish to the lower and upper Yukon.

The state of Alaska purchased 12,000 pounds of salmon from Copper River Seafoods, which was again transported by Lynden and Everts to Yukon River distribution points. The bulk of the cost of transport was donated.

In mid-September OBI Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods and Alaska Pacific Seafoods in Kodiak donated another 24,000 pounds of chums, with SeaShare’s Jim Harmon again stepping in to help coordinate the effort.

Then two Alaska Native regional corporations—Calista Corp. and Doyon, Limited—joined with two mining companies operating in Alaska—Donlin Gold and Nova Minerals – to purchase another 8,000 pounds of salmon which was delivered to the same distribution points.

Dunleavy said that through Sept. 21 that the state had donated 37,000 pounds of salmon overall, at a cost of $135,000, using FY2021 Food Security Enhancement Projects program CARES Act funds. Transportation for those fish donations was donated.