Hot fishing makes for busy processors

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2008

As more salmon enter the rivers, it's time to get to it, but not just for fishermen. Fish processors are also getting busier as the late runs of kings and sockeyes continue to build toward their peaks.

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Photos By Joseph Robertia
Photos By Joseph Robertia
Brittany Hegwer bags fish at Custom Seafood Processing in Soldotna on Wednesday. The fish processing business is beginning to pick as more fish enter the rivers.

"It's going very well. We had a little bit of a slow start to the season, but it's picking up nicely," said Lisa Hanson, owner of Custom Seafood Processing in Soldotna.

On Thursday, their fish receiving line was long, but moving steadily as customers dropped off their catches. Some were whole fish needing the works, while other fish had already been filleted, but were there for a few finishing touches, such as vacuum-sealing and freezing, canning or having a little flavor added.

"We're doing a lot of smoking. We've been smoking everyday," Hanson said.

As would be expected at this time of year, the bulk of the fish being brought in are salmon and halibut, but there are other species from time to time as well.

"We'll do anything that people bring in, so we see an occasional yelloweye, sea bass, cod or other some fish," Hanson said.

As would be expected, many customers are visitors to the Kenai Peninsula.

"Our clientele is probably 65 percent tourists," she said.

Many of these people will drop off their catches, continue their vacation for a few more days, and then pick up their processed fish before heading home. However, some people don't plan that far ahead, or get lucky on the water on their last day in state, and these people can be accommodated as well.

"If people bring in fish and say they have to be on a plane in six hours, we can't always accommodate that on say the 26th of July, so we have an exchange pool people can participate in," Hanson said.

The way this program works is fishermen can bring in fish or fillets and exchange them for the same amount that has already been processed, rather than waiting for their own catch to be done. Fish are carefully scrutinized to ensure they are clean and fresh.

"It's still an excellent quality product -- not fish that sat on the bank for three hours without being gutted or bled," she said.

While many who bring in fish for processing are from Outside, there is a fair number of local residents that also bring in fish for some work, and unlike the exchange program, these people will go home with meat from the exact fish they dropped off.

"Our local population clientele is growing all the time. People are wet and cold from fishing, so they bring in their catches for us to deal with, and they do it because they trust us to give them their own fish back," she said.

Despite busy business this week, Hanson said fish processing is still far from its peak.

"We're not booming yet. It's still building. The last week of July and the first week of August are our busiest times. That's when we'll fillet for up to 18 hours and can do 15,000 pounds of fish in a day," she said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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