Kotzebue is in the midst of one of its best commercial chum seasons ever. That’s due to an exceptionally strong run size. And dockside economics are playing a role, as well.
Seth Kantner has been commercial fishing since the 70s.
“We just could not have taken advantage of the number of fish that we’re getting this year without having three buyers. And all the buyers are quicker this year—just, competition.”
Not long ago, commercial fishing in Kotzebue was nearly dead. And over the decades, Kantner has seen the fishery in Kotzebue Sound peak and crash.
“The 90s things just kept tapering down—less of us fishing, almost where it was embarrassing to say you were fishing, as people thought it was a waste of time. At that point the prices just kept going to 25, 23, and 19, 17 [cents a pound], and a lot of those years there weren’t that many fish, either.”
In 2002, with no local buyer, Kantner recalls having to pack and ship fish out himself. The total value of the fishery that year was just $7,572.
This year the commercial fleet is expected to pull in about $3 million. That, according to Nate Kotch, vice president of Maniilaq, is partly biology from a good brood year, but also the payoff from a five year branding campaign at food expos in Asia, Europe, and on the East Coast:
“These fish are being marketed. And the brand that we have, of course, is Arctic Circle Wild Salmon.”
Kotch and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game anticipate another two weeks or so of commercial openings that are likely to push this year’s harvest up to the third best on record.