Yukon River salmon processor plans to open for summer with pandemic precautions

BETHEL - An Western Alaska fish purchasing and processing company plans to open this season while reducing interaction with members of the public during the coronavirus pandemic.

KwikPak Fisheries LLC says it will operate its Yukon River facility in Emmonak this summer, KYUK-AM reported.

The company worked with Emmonak and state officials and health care providers at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. to devise an operation plan in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

KwikPak staff will undergo a quarantine in Anchorage before arriving in Emmonak at the end of the month. The quarantine will include testing to ensure staff members are free of the coronavirus before taking chartered flights to the village.

After landing in Emmonak, staff will transfer directly to the salmon processing plant and remain there until the fishing season ends.

"We have the necessary equipment and will keep our distance, with no contact with locals," said Darren Swain, KwikPak medical and safety director.

Fishermen will deliver salmon to Kwikpak’s tender boats as they have in the past, but crews receiving the fish will wear gloves to winch the haul on board and unload the fish.

There is usually at least 6 feet or more between staff on the larger tender boat and the fishermen in skiffs, but this year jumping between boats will not be permitted.

How to pay fishermen without making contact is a detail still being worked out, the company said.

The company plans to isolate any workers who contract COVID-19 before transporting them to a medical facility.

“KwikPak has community support behind it, or else this wouldn’t be happening,” general manager Jack Schultheis said.