It’s been a good summer for commercial fishing in the Norton Sound—and at the latest meeting of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation Board, a strong crab and an ongoing salmon season means it’s not over.
“We paid out over $2,047,000 to our local crab fleet, which is just amazing,” said NSEDC Board chair Dan Harrelson of White Mountain.
The salmon, he stressed, are still running: so far this year fishermen in Golovin, Elim, Koyuk, Shaktoolik, and Unalakleet have racked up over $650,000. Silvers are just starting their run, as well, with Unalakleet fishermen delivering about 20,000 cohos as of last week.
Harreslon said it’s an opportunity for people in communities throughout the region. “We’ve had residents come from White Mountain and some of the non-fishing communities come in and work at the fish plant in Nome, or even travel to Unalakleet and work at the fish plant in Unalakleet. So there’s a definite economic opportunity for folks from Nome and the surrounding villages to work in our various fish plants and as well work on some of the vessels on some of our tenders that we have that are moving the salmon and crab throughout the region.”
The NSEDC board’s meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 5, was held in the organization’s brand-new boardroom—a glass-lined space overlooking the Snake River, with Anvil Mountain and the White Alice Towers visible in the distance. And looking far afield of Norton Sound’s powerhouse summer season, the board also heard from its for-profit subsidiary, Siu Alaska. Siu president and CEO Cora Campbell, who took over the company in February, said, beyond fish, the exciting news for Siu is cod liver. A new plant in Dutch Harbor is gearing up to turn the livers of the prized whitefish into health supplements.
“It’s a part of the fish that was just being discarded at sea before,” Campbell said after the meeting, “so this is an opportunity to add value, and to use something that was a byproduct before and turn it into a finished product and sell it, and that’s the direction we want to go, full utilization.”
Campbell said Siu’s crabbing vessels are now heading to the Aleutians to harvest a combined 2.6 million pounds of golden king crab. Siu also has boats harvesting Bering Sea pollock, which Campbell said have kept bycatch for both chum and Chinook salmon low this season.
Beyond fish, the Board also voted to leverage a portion of Teller’s Community Energy Fund to revamp the village’s aging washateria, the source of everything from hot showers to drinking water for many in the community.
“Teller doesn’t have sewer and water,” Harrelson said. “People haul honey buckets still. Teller has one washateria that’s an old building, and it was extremely expensive to run. So they’ve earmarked, or rather asked for $810,000 … and I believe they’ll be putting it to good use to make Teller a better place to live.”
The board also focused on the issue of residency for salmon fishing permits in Norton Sound. Specifically, the question of whether residency restrictions now in place for fishermen selling crab and halibut should stay in place for commercial salmon fishermen.
Harrelson said there’s roughly 300 commercial salmon permits in the region, and fewer than half (approximately 130) are being actively fished.
“There’s several Norton Sound salmon permits that are held by folks that live in Anchorage, they come back and fish every year, they’ve fished for a number of years,” Harrelson summarized. “So what we’re going to do at this point in time is visit the salmon portion of the residency policy to see if that best fits the needs of the people in the region and the needs of NSEDC.”
The board’s next meeting is a September workshop in Anchorage, with its next quarterly meeting also set for Anchorage in December.