CVRF subsidiary, Coastal Villages Seafoods, buys and sells about 2 million pounds of salmon a year. That’s pretty small compared to other fish markets in Alaska, but it’s one that specializes in Kuskokwim caught wild salmon.
Spokesperson, Dawson Hoover, says they will be paying 15 cents more for their salmon this year, from 85 cents to a $1 per pound for all salmon species. He says they are paying more because the quality of the fish has improved.
“We’ve been getting a much better product over the years, ever since we’ve implemented mandatory icing and bleeding,” Hoover says. “Our fishermen are getting better at delivering a better catch, so we’re rewarding them with higher prices this year.”
He says the reputation that Kuskokwim salmon are high quality fish has spread internationally.
“We’re getting recognition from all over the world on our wild seafood product,” Hoover says.
Coastal Villages Seafoods buys from about 400 fishermen in the Lower Kuskokwim region, an area that has one of the highest poverty rates in the state. Besides employing fishermen, CVS also hires hundreds of processors to work on salmon, halibut, and herring. CVS says that those processors this coming season will be getting $10 per hour for their work, up from $9 per hour.
“Part of the reason is that we’re getting more and more efficient with processing our fish,” Hoover says.
Hoover says most of their work force is experienced with about two-thirds having worked for them before.
Most of CVS’s processing happens at its plant in Platinum, which opened in 2009. Workers there get free room and board, and free airfare if they complete their seasonal contract. At the peak of the salmon season, workers are processing fish about 12 hours a day. The salmon gets flown in from fisheries in Quinhagak, Goodnews Bay, and the Kuskokwim River.
Hoover says many times the plant workers are friends or even family. Last year, 83% of them or 225 workers were from CVS’s 20 member communities.
“It’s much better compared to flying to Bristol Bay or Naknek or Dutch Harbor,” Hoover says. “You get to stay close to home and work and earn money and make friends.”
In addition to salmon processing, CVS has halibut plants in six villages: Chefornak, Hooper Bay, Kipnuk, Mekoryuk, Toksook Bay, and Tununak. There, workers buy halibut from local fishermen, ice them, and prepare them to ship to the Platinum plant. Two more buying stations will be added this year in Kwigillingok and Kongiganak bringing halibut employment in those eight villages to 75.
CVRF Executive Director, Morgen Crow, said in a written statement that there will be challenges this year because the overall market for pollock, cod, and halibut is down and the Opilio crab quota was cut overall. However, he said their diversified Bering Sea fleet continues to provide, “a very solid financial base”.