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With chum runs crashing, Yukon River fish processor pivots to greenhouses

Usually Kwik’pak Fisheries, the only commercial fish processor on the Yukon River, sells salmon around the world. After the Yukon’s main salmon species started dwindling to record lows last year, Kwik’pak had to pivot to stay afloat.

Kilee Fratis and Josine Wasky are standing with a group of teenagers in one of the only greenhouses along the lower Yukon River. It’s a rare sunny day for this summer, and the two girls are feeling it.

“It’s really hot,” said Fratis. They’re sticking thermometers in the soil and making notes. “We’re watering the plants and taking the temperature,” Wasky said. “And checking the moisture on the soil,” Fratis added.

The greenhouses are filled with peppers, peas, chard and turnips. Right now they’re watering the tomatoes. They just got to taste one. “It was really sweet, and so it was good,” Fratis said. It’s their third summer working at Kwik’pak Fisheries in Emmonak, but this work looks very different from past years. Fratis and Wasky say that normally they would be deboning fish and boxing them up. But with fish returning in record low records, fish plant employees are planting tomatoes instead.


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