Bristol Bay processors donate 25K lbs of frozen salmon to villages

Schultheis: Subsistence harvesters would normally be permitted to harvest 25K whole kings

Bristol Bay seafood processors, in the midst of a robust harvesting season, are donating 25,000 pounds of frozen king salmon to Yukon River communities where harvests have been halted. The plan was to split the volume of kings between the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association in Emmonak and the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks, with shipments going out on Wednesday, July 21 and Thursday, July 22, said Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, who coordinated transport of the fish.

Harmon said he happened to be in the small community named King Salmon when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game made a decision to close the Yukon River even for subsistence salmon fishing this year, due to the weak runs of king and chum salmon. He met with officials from Alaska General Seafoods; Leader Creek Seafoods North Pacific Seafoods; Ocean Beauty and Icicle; and Trident Seafoods, who decided collectively to assist and asked Harmon to coordinate the effort.

Jim Jansen of Linden Inc. then recruited freight companies to help move the totes out of Bristol Bay and to the Yukon River communities, Harmon said. Plans called for Northern Air Cargo and Everts to fly the fish to Anchorage. After this, Everts was to fly half the fish from Anchorage to Emmonak, with the other half to be trucked to Fairbanks, where the Tanana Chiefs Conference would deliver them to villages along the upper Yukon River.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also has agreed to help with air freight charges, but Harmon said he was not yet sure how that would work.

“This is not SeaShare’s project,” Harmon said. “This is something Bristol Bay decided to do to share fish with communities in the Yukon who are suffering. A lot of generous partners are involved… SeaShare has been donating fish across Alaska for over 20 years, so those processors collectively asked us to help with coordination and documentation, all at zero cost to the receiving communities.”

“It was generous of the processors in Bristol Bay to do this,” said Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries, in Emmonak, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association. “I think something is better than nothing and right now people have nothing.” In a normal year, people in subsistence communities all along the Yukon would have

Harvested some 25,000 whole king salmon to put up for the winter, he said.

“There are villages from the mouth of the river all the way to Eagle and a lot of people depend on the fish,” he said. “They want to put up food for winter and they haven’t been able to do that. This is a big deal for this culture on the river. I don’t think it has ever happened in my memory that they weren’t allowed to even catch subsistence fish.”

There are plenty of theories on why the run of chum and king salmon to the Yukon was so low this year, but Schultheis says he’s sure it is the result of too many hatchery fish in the Bering Sea, from hatcheries in Japan, Korea, Alaska and even Washington state.

“Everything has a carrying capacity and right now the hatcheries are putting 5-10 billion smolt into the Bering Sea every year,” he said. “Hatchery fish going out into the ocean are two to three times larger than a wild salmon, so who do you think gets more food, the little guy or the big guy?”