EMMONAK - Last week's commercial fishing opener on the lower Yukon River provided a shot in the arm to one of the nation's poorest areas.
The 30,000 chum salmon caught during the opener far outpaced last year's busiest fishing period in District Y1. With chum prices higher, and incidentally caught kings allowed to be sold, many fishermen took home several hundred dollars.
The district where the fishing took place starts at the river mouth and includes the villages of Emmonak, Kotlik, Nunam Iqua and Alakanuk.
The total chum haul weighed 196,483 pounds, or about 6.47 pounds on average, according to the only seafood processor near the mouth. At 70 cents a pound - up from 50 cents in 2009 - fishermen earned almost $138,000.
Fishermen also incidentally caught 2,109 king salmon, or 25,130 pounds, which they were allowed to sell at $5 a pound for a total of $125,650.
High numbers of fishermen turned out for the opener, in part because word had spread that subsistence fishing has been going well, said Jack Schultheis, general manager for Kwik'pak Seafoods.
"They know when there's fish in the river," he said.
Because of the high turnout, vendors sold out of crewmember licenses in three villages.
The strong opener provided some relief for fishermen who haven't been allowed to target kings in recent years, said Charlie Hamilton, who was wrestling a salmon-studded net into a boat.
Hamilton and a partner caught more than 100 chums on their first drift, he said. This second drift looked promising too, but most of his money would come from king salmon he pulled in.
"I got about $800 in kings right now," he said as he slapped another king salmon into a tote. "That's $70 right there."
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