Kwik’pak is a relatively small fishery located in far removed rural Alaska in the native village of Emmonak. It buys it’s stock from small-scale Yup’ik commercial fishermen. Its fish travel long distances to get to buyers. And Kwik’pak tracks that trip—like an itinerary.
“The fish has a story,” Robert Burmeister says.
Burmeister works for Trace Register, a company Kwik’pak uses to track data that tells that fishes story.
“Maybe 25 Chum Salmon out of a particular area of 334-12,” Burmeister says. “That area is geographically pinpointed in our system.”
Everything about the fish is recorded—from when and how many salmon were caught, what section of the river the salmon came from, the gear used to catch them to how they were processed.
“And then eventually if you go into Whole Foods in the lower 48 they have QR codes available that you can scan, and that particular lot of fish, you can see exactly where that fish came from,” Burmeister says.
Burmeister says Kwik’pak is doing the job better than most other fisheries and he works with companies from around the world—all the way from Ecuador to Thailand.
Kwik’pak Assistant Manager Judi Murdock says the quality of Yukon River Salmon distinguishes it from other fish.
“We definitely want people to know they’re getting Yukon River Salmon,” Murdock says. “We had an incident where somebody in the lower 48 were advertising our fish as a fresh product in their case.”
Fish fraud is has become common practice throughout the seafood world. From 2010 to 2012, the international ocean conservation group Oceana collected more than 1,200 seafood samples from retail outlets in 21 states, and after DNA testing found that 33 percent were mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
According to the FDA, cheaper fish are often substituted for a more expensive species. Someone might think they’re tasting Red Snapper when really they’re biting into a Rockfish. Chum salmon, the species Kwik’pak primarily sells these days, is typically switched out with Pink Salmon.
Although the FDA doesn’t enforce regulations for traceability, National Fisheries Institute Director of Scientific Affairs Barbara Blakistone is working to create a national model for traceability that may act as a guide for the FDA. But those may be a long way off and Blakistone says many large grocery companies already want the trace data.
“And they’re dead out serious about it,” Blakistone says. “They want you to be able to prove it and there’s just no way you can do it except for traceability. So the incentive is already there for industry to do the right thing.”
Kwik’pak sells wild stock Chum and Coho Salmon to companies across the US and the UK.