Know Your Fishermen: Haines Packing Company

By Jonathan Wlasiuk

Know Your Fishermen: Haines Packing Company
Haines Packing Company on Letnikof Cove of the Chilkat River

Trusted Partner Profile


Know Your Fishermen: Haines Packing Company | Sitka Salmon Shares

Established in 1917, Haines Packing Company is the longest continually running seafood processor in Southeast Alaska and has been family run for generations. Sitka Salmon Shares chose Haines Packing Company as a trusted partner to provide our members with salmon from the Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers. These watersheds produce the largest runs of sockeye in Southeast Alaska and also support coho and keta runs, emptying into the majestic Lynn Canal, the deepest fjord in North America. At over 2,000 feet deep, Lynn Canal hosts all five species of Pacific salmon as well as halibut and Dungeness crab.

Together with his wife, Genny, Harry Rietze has been running Haines Packing since 2013, when he bought the company from his father and uncle. “Sitka Salmon Shares has been a great partner for Haines Packing and our fishermen,” Rietze says. “We both value a quality product for our customers and we complement each other logistically with a plant on each end of Southeast Alaska to accommodate multiple fisheries.” 

Genny and Harry Rietze carry on a family tradition of processing wild seafood.

Rietze took extraordinary precautions to protect his workers during the pandemic. “We have been extremely fortunate with the effects of COVID-19. We implemented a closed campus for the season to reduce traffic in and out of our facility,” says Rietze. “Our crew did an amazing job of mask-wearing and vigilant hand-washing to help reduce risk.”

By sourcing from small-boat fishermen in the Chilkat and Chilkoot river system and treating workers with dignity, Haines Packing operates according to the core values of Sitka Salmon Shares.


 

Habitat & Community

The Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers have sustained Tlingit communities since time immemorial. Jones Hotch, a Tlingit tribal leader from nearby Klukwan, described the importance of the wild salmon habitat to High Country News. “You guys might have your Safeway,” Hotch said, gesturing his hand across the valley. “There’s ours all around here.”

The Chilkat River is under threat by a proposed mining development upstream from Klukwan and Haines. The mine, known as the Palmer Project, worries locals and environmental activists who want to defend critical habitat. 

Shannon Donahue has lived in Haines since 2010 and is a Chilkat Watershed Organizer with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC). She wants to preserve the rich habitat of the region. “As soon as I got here, I felt at home,” she says. “The Chilkat Valley is arguably the most biologically diverse valley in all of Alaska because it is on the edge of a temperate rainforest, and the fjord goes so far inland it almost meets up with the subarctic ecosystem just north of here.”

 

Learn more about the Chilkat River in the documentary short Rock-Paper-Fish from Wild Confluence.

All that ecosystem diversity with glacially-fed waters offers ample habitat for wild salmon, according to Shannon. “The Chilkat is likely to be a refuge for species that are impacted by climate change in the future,” she says, but adds a warning. “It's a pretty resilient ecosystem, as long as we don't pollute it.” Shannon says the Chilkat River is not just a stronghold for wild Pacific salmon, but for all the species they impact.

Shannon Donahue, Upper Lynn Canal Organizer for SEACC, has lived in Haines since 2010.

The fall run of salmon extends into December on the Chilkat River and attracts the largest concentration of bald eagles on the planet. Drive north from Haines toward Klukwan and you will find the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where visitors from every corner of the earth come to watch salmon and bald eagles play out a performance that has defined these waters for a very long time.

How long they continue to gather depends on our ability to steward the valley in the interests of wild animals, the local population who depends on them for subsistence, and the commercial fishing industry which can provide economic opportunities for generations to come. Shannon Donahue knows that mineral resources will continue to tempt speculators and mining companies. “With mining projects, it's really hard to get a permanent win,” she says. “We really need to protect this place in any ways we can.”

Illustration by Libby Geboy.

Stay Wild!

Harry Rietze is thankful for the abundance of fish created in these rich environments. “Both of our river systems, the Chilkoot and Chilkat Rivers, produce some of the world's nicest sockeye and coho salmon,” he says. Keep an eye out for salmon from Haines Packing spawned in the glacial waters of these amazing river systems.

Fish are only as good as the habitat they live in and by subscribing to Sitka Salmon Shares, your dollars go to small-boat fishing communities like Haines Packing Company, who are working for a sustainable future filled with wild salmon. Our 1% For the Wild Fund supports efforts to protect the Chilkat River by giving to groups such as the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. Through organizers like Shannon Donahue, SEACC is working to protect the Chilkat watershed from the destructive impacts of mining. Without wild habitat, we lose our wild fish. Stay wild!

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