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After Devastating Fire, EDA Partners with Yup’ik Fishermen to Rebuild Salmon Roe Processing Plant

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Jack Schultheis, General Manager of Kwik'pak Fisheries.

Fishing has been the economic lifeblood of the Yup’ik people of western Alaska since time immemorial. After a catastrophic fire ripped through the Kwik'pak Fisheries salmon roe processing plant in Emmonak in March 2016, six Alaskan Native Villages along the Lower Yukon River found their economies in sudden peril. Kwik'pak Fisheries, an enterprise of the Native-owned Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, operates the only salmon processing plant in this section of Alaska’s vast, Unorganized Borough. Without access to Kwik'pak’s facilities, the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the processing of salmon roe – and upon whose backs the economy of the Yukon Delta is built – faced an uncertain future.

Jack Schultheis, General Manager of Kwik'pak Fisheries, remembers one of the first calls he received after the fire. It was from his longtime colleague Shirley Kelly, the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Economic Development Representative for Alaska.

“She gets it,” Schultheis said of Kelly. “She gets the problems in western Alaska and understands what we’re trying to do.”

Schultheis and Kelly immediately set about preparing the application for an Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) grant to help Kwik'pak rebuild. It was a process familiar to Schultheis. The EDA has partnered on economic development with Native fisheries in western Alaska since 1969 – just four years after the agency was established – when it wrote a grant to Kuskokwim Fishermen, Inc. for the purchase of barges. (The vessels acquired with that grant are still in use today, more than a half-century later.)

Within 12 months of the fire, EDA issued a $1.6 million grant for rebuilding of the Kwik'pak Fisheries processing plant. Today, the repaired and rebuilt Kwik'pak plant is operating at full volume, producing up to 15,000 pounds of roe each day from salmon caught by Native Yup’ik anglers sailing out of the communities of Emmonak, Kotlik, Nunam Iqua, Grayling, Alakanuk, and Mountain Village. The roe is sorted, frozen, packed, and graded at the Kwik'pak plant in preparation for export to markets in Japan and Korea. There, it’s repackaged for retail sale as caviar.

As a result of the EDA investment, 60 jobs have been saved, 30 new positions created, and millions in private investment generated. In 2018 – the most recent year for which data is available - Kwik'pak Fisheries injected $4.3 million in payroll into the economy of the Yukon Delta.

The Economic Adjustment Assistance program (PDF) provides a wide range of technical, planning, and public works and infrastructure assistance to regions experiencing adverse economic changes due to changing trade patterns and other factors. To learn more, and to see how others are using EDA grants to support local economic development, visit EDA’s website.

Tags: Infrastructure

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