How the Kuskokwim Bay commercial fishery will work this season
This will be the second year that Seattle-based E&E Foods has purchased salmon from local fishermen in Kuskokwim Bay. Anglers and fish buyers are optimistic that the Kuskokwim Bay commercial fishery will build on last year’s success.
E&E Foods chief operating officer Ken Ng said his company bought more than one million pounds of salmon from fishermen in Kuskokwim Bay last year.
“We hope to buy more,” Ng said of this year.
Ng said the pandemic reduced demand for salmon last year, but with restaurants and the economy reopening, he is optimistic demand for salmon will be higher this season. He said the E&E processing vessel at Goodnews Bay can process 70,000 pounds of salmon per day, which is the same capacity as the vessel that was there last year. The fish will be frozen before being shipped out of the region and most will end up in grocery stores.
E&E will purchase chum, royal, red and silver salmon. Ng said it was too early to know how much fishermen will be paid for their catch, but said they will be competitively compensated.
“It should be at least around last year’s price,” Ng said.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that E&E bought king and sockeye salmon for 55 cents a pound, chum for 45 cents a pound, and silver for 15 cents a pound last year.
Ng said the tender fish vessel will be in Kuskokwim Bay by June 25 and the processing vessel will arrive on June 30. He said all E&E employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but would still be tested for the virus before boarding tender and processing vessels.
The company will also continue to take COVID-19 precautions from last year. E&E will once again operate a “contactless” fishery. This means that fishermen cannot board neither the tender nor the transformer, and E&E workers do not enter the communities.
E&E will purchase salmon exclusively from fishermen licensed by the Quinhagak Independent Fishermen’s Cooperative (IFQC). The group relaunched the commercial salmon fishery in Kuskokwim Bay last year after a five-year hiatus. About 70 fishermen participated in last year’s fishery.
“We are anticipating a little more this year,” said IFQC President John Mark. He said he has already received requests for commercial fishing from people who did not participate last summer.
“There was a lot of hesitation among the fishermen as to whether the fishery was actually going to take place or not. And it went really well, ”said Mark.
Mark also said that fishermen who participated in the commercial fishery last year are more used to bleeding and icing fish, which can earn them E&E bonuses. These industry practices preserve the quality of the salmon.
Currently, the IFQC only allows people from Quinhagak, Goodnews Bay, Platinum and Eek to participate in the Kuskokwim Bay commercial fishery. Mark said it’s because E&E can only buy a limited amount of fish. But the cooperative’s long-term goal is to start buying salmon from fishermen on their own. Mark said that in this way the cooperative can also allow fishermen from other villages to participate in the commercial fishery.
“It will be a long process,” said Mark.
Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game biologist Ben Gray said commercial fishing openings in Kuskokwim Bay would likely begin in July.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the E&E salmon had been transported out of the region. It is actually shipped by ships.