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Update: Over 100 boats anchor on the Naknek River in protest of processors' low prices

Crews anchor in the Naknek River in protest of prices
Jack Darrell
Crews anchor in the Naknek River in protest of prices

Bristol Bay fishermen outraged with processors and this year's low base price are holding a fleet protest in the Naknek River, from 6am to 6am. KDLG reporters are on the water this morning, in a boat moving between protesting fishing crews.

By 9am, there were over one hundred boats on the river.

Crews are calling for processors to improve the base price from 50 cents per pound of sockeye, which they say is devastating for the fleet and unsustainable for the industry. They're also calling for an end to the practice of price secrecy in the fishery, and want to see processors' post a price estimate at the beginning of the season instead of the end.

KDLG's Jessie Sheldon had this update at 11am:

KDLG's Jessie Sheldon live update from the Naknek River

A Bristol Bay radio group protest processors in the Naknek River
Jack Darrell
A Bristol Bay radio group protest processors in the Naknek River

KDLG’s Corinne Smith: Jessie, what are you seeing and hearing this morning?

KDLG’s Jessie Sheldon: I'm currently wrapping up here with about seven boats on the back of the F/V Sarah J. And we've been talking to several different fishermen on a few different boats to get the background on why people are out here protesting today and what kind of changes they want to see. And the big thing we're hearing is, it's really about the price secrecy that it's just not sustainable to go into the season, not knowing what you're going to be paid. And there's very few other industries that that's the case and people are really frustrated with that.

Corinne: How many boats are you seeing now? And what's it looking like on the water now?

Jessie: I'm looking at off the port side of the boat at like 50 boats here. We're rafted up here with seven other boats. There's a few other boats that are rafted up too, but the rafting up is a little challenging with the wind and the tide right now.

Corinne: What else have you been hearing from fishermen about how they're going to fare with this low price? If it stays at this 50 cents per pound (for sockey)? What what are some of the impacts that you're hearing?

Jessie: Well, I'm hearing from a lot of people that it's just not a survivable price. And especially we just talked to some younger folks who are out on the water, who are getting into the industry. It's not a base price that makes sense to get into the industry at you know, it's so much of it as an investment in boat and equipment. And with a base price like that, this is not an industry that they would want to get into.

A big thing we've been hearing is from folks who have been fishing here for a long time is the increase in quality. The amount that people have invested in increasing the quality of Bristol Bay sockeye, you know, refrigerated seawater, mats on the deck, each year improve the quality of the fish that are making their way to market. But fishermen aren't seeing that in the base price. They're investing in that increased quality, but not not seeing the return on that.

Corinne: Wow. And so you have someone with you, a young fisherman there with you now, can we hear from him?

Jessie: Yeah, I'm here on the back deck with Jordan Mayner. He's been fishing the last nine years up here with his dad. What's your take on this protest?

Jordan Maynor: I think it's great to see everyone out here. Ultimately, there's a big turnout, which is good to see solidarity amongst so many fishermen. I think we often see ourselves as very independent individuals. But to see everyone come together and say this isn't it really makes me proud to be a fisherman. And I'm happy to see everyone out here. And I just hope it can bring some attention, hopefully some change to the fishery.

Corinne: What does this low price mean to you personally, like what kind of impact is this going to have?

Jordan Maynor: You know, I think it's certainly going to mean the tightening of the belt as far as spending goes for this upcoming year. I think it certainly shies me away from ever wanting to join this fishery. My dad's been doing it since he was 15. I would have loved to do it, but I don't see it as possible or profitable even to be doing that anymore with these prices.

Corinne: What would you like to see happen?

Jordan Maynor: I don't know if I'm the right man for the answers. I think at the bare minimum, I think having a better understanding of what the floor for the price at the beginning of the season would be a good start. I think ultimately what is so unfair about this is we don't know what we're getting paid. We worked really hard for the entire season. And then in the last week, they tell us what we're getting paid and at that point, all our fish is already off, and our hands are kind of tied. It’s an injustice.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

Corinne Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer who grew up in Oakland, California. She's reported for KFSK in Petersburg, KHNS in Haines, and most recently KBBI in Homer. This is her second season as a fisheries reporter, and now returns as director of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report.
Jessie Sheldon is a fisheries reporter for KDLG. She has spent several summers working in Alaska, both on the water and in the recording studio. Jessie is passionate about marine ecosystems, connection through storytelling, and all things fishy.
Jack Darrell is a reporter for KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. He is working on the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report and is passionate about sustainable fisheries and local stories that connect communities and explore the intersections of class, culture, and the natural world.
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