The char are running, and getting caught in western Nunavut
Kitikmeot Foods harvests Arctic char from Surrey River
SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Warm weather has come to Nunavut, which means it’s time for Kitikmeot Foods’ first Arctic char catch of the season.
“It’s all become a routine,” said Stéphane Lacasse, general manager of Kitikmeot Foods in Cambridge Bay, July 16. “But every catch we bring in is important to us.”
The company begins its spring harvest in mid-July every year.
This harvest lasts a week to a week and a half and Kitikmeot Foods will bring in two to three loads of fish each day.
This spring, the company plans to bring in more than 16,700 pounds, dressed, of Arctic char from Surrey River alone.
Rivers that the company harvests from are not all near town — they range in distance from 50 to 160 kilometres away. This means all fish are flown back to town by float plane to ensure freshness.
Staff at the Kitikmeot Foods plant in Cambridge Bay unload the char from the float planes and bring them back to headquarters for a final cleaning before they are processed and sold as char fillets, whole dressed char, smoked char, char steaks and Arctic char jerky.
“The thing is, in the fall we can get to the other rivers much easier,” said Lacasse, who has worked at Kitikmeot Foods for seven years.
The fall harvest season offers a much wider window of opportunity.
It lasts anywhere from five to six weeks and the company fishes from three other rivers: 30 Mile, Ekalluk and Jayco. Combined, these rivers are expected to bring Kitikmeot Foods more than 75,000 pounds of dressed Arctic char this year.
Lacasse says the fact that the char are swimming up the river now makes them easier to catch in greater numbers.
Arctic char migrate to fresh water toward the end of summer and remain there over winter. In spring and early summer, they swim back downstream to feed in the ocean.
Kitikmeot Foods catches most of their Arctic char using a traditional fishing device called a weir, which is good for netting large numbers of fish.
The weir forms a barrier that allows water to flow through but not fish. The fish generally range in size from two to 10 pounds, but some can top 20 pounds.
The spring and fall harvests last a little more than a month, combined.
During the other 45 weeks that the company is not occupied with the harvest, staff are busy processing food and making ready-to-eat products.
Kitikmeot Foods Ltd. sells char during the annual harvest to Canadian and American locations. Frozen products are available throughout the year.
Lacasse says over the years, Kitikmeot Foods has perfected a system of catching, processing, selling and shipping their goods which helps keeps the process running smoothly.
“What we did last year, we did the same this year,” said Lacasse. “It’s been going like this for years and years.”