Kodiak Island. Photo by Luke Dixon/Unsplash

OBI Seafoods has told set netters in the Alitak District they will not be buying their fish where they are harvested on the south end of Kodiak Island or providing normal services during the 2024 fishery, leaving the fishermen with no potential market. 

OBI COO Brian O’Leary told the dozens of fishermen participating in the Alitak District fishery on March 8 that the cost of operations is now uneconomical, due to lower harvests, high tender costs and the overall cost of providing ice and other services. 

OBI would be open to buying these setnet fish only if the fish are delivered to Kodiak, he said, 

O’Leary also advised that ice, laundry, boat labor, garbage, and showers would not be open for use this summer. The company was not available by this publication’s deadline for further comment, but participating harvester Theresa Peterson, of Kodiak, said the fishermen were trying to work out a way to get those fish to Kodiak. 

If no market opportunity emerges, there will be additional concerns about how to manage the harvestable surplus of salmon headed to Alitak District River systems, she said. Without an active setnet fleet fishing at typical intervals, foregone harvest could lead to over-escaping salmon systems, which puts additional biological pressure on lake and river habitats and has the potential to exacerbate fluctuations in returning biomass, Peterson said. 

“This would have been difficult news in September,” said Hannah Heimbuch, of Twin Peaks Fish camp.  “In March, it’s devastating. Maybe we can find a way to get our fish the 120 miles to town on our own and cone up with a quick plan for buying and distributing ice, fuel and other supplies. I don’t know that any remote setnet fleet in Alaska could pull that together in a few weeks, but we have to try.” 

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The announcement from OBI Seafoods came in the wake of the U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement that USDA will be purchasing nearly $70 million in seafood from OBI Seafoods, plus large purchases from other seafood processors. 

This has left setnet fishermen in the Alitak district with questions about how to rebuild and bolster resiliency for fishing businesses, the group said. 

Many of the setnet fishing businesses are family operations with a multi-generational history in the fishery. The association said if no market opportunity emerges, there will be additional concerns about how to manage harvestable surplus of salmon headed to Alitac district river systems. Without an active setnet fleet fishing at typical harvest levels, foregone harvest could lead to over-escapement of salmon, putting additional biological pressure on lakes and river habitats and has the potential to exacerbate fluctuations in returning biomass, according to the association’s statement. 

Many of the 40 members of the Alitak District Setnet Association are family operations. The Alutiiq community of Akhiok is located just a few miles north of the cannery, one of six remote Alutiiq villages on Kodiak Island. Plant ownership has changed hands over the last 130 years, but village residents, including commercial and subsistence harvesters, have always been able to purchase fuel, groceries and other goods fron the cannery and sell their commercially caught fish. 

The association said that OBI is working with the Akhiok community and tribal leaders to problem solve the most critical services. 

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