A lack of salmon and halibut are forcing Whitehorse’s Wharf on Fourth fish shop to close after 12 years of business.
“Once the inventory’s gone then we’ll be closing the doors,” said Mark Richardson, who, along with wife Jodi, has owned and operated Wharf on Fourth for six years.
The customers are there — but the small shop just can’t find enough fish to meet the demand.
“Up until a couple of years ago we used to order between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of halibut a week — and sell that off every week,” said Mark.
“But now, if we get 1,000 pounds a week we’re doing very well, but trying to find that 1,000 pounds has become a headache.”
Wharf on Fourth first opened its doors in 1996 and was purchased by the Richardsons in 2002.
“It looked like a really strong business. It looked like a great long-term business, but we didn’t know much about the fishing industry in those days,” said Jodi.
Throughout its history, the Wharf on Fourth has kept to a strict to a code of providing only wild salmon and halibut.
“Mother Nature has done a better job than any man has ever thought of doing,” said Jodi.
But wild salmon and halibut supplies have dropped to record low global levels — robbing the Wharf on Fourth of their staple products.
“Those two are huge for us, so when we lose those we lose a big part of our summer sales,” said Jodi.
Without Wharf on Fourth, Whitehorse’s wild fish aficionados have lost one of their most reliable sources.
“We will miss our customers. As far as we’re concerned we had the best customers in the world — the most loyal — and that’s the hardest thing for us,” said Jodi.
“They’ve been part of our life every day for the last six years,” she added.
Other businesses have looked into taking up the wild-fish torch, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Stacey Amann, of Stacey Butcher Block, called wild fish sales a “great opportunity,” but said that nothing would be happening overnight.
“Once the hunting season blows over, I’ll have more time to spend on expanding into the frozen seafood section,” said Amann.
The Stikine River, where Wharf on Fourth receives a portion of its salmon, has shown remarkably dismal returns for commercial fishers in recent years.
The 2008 chinook catch stands at 7,200 fish, barely more than half the average of the last 10 years.
Only 28,000 sockeyes came from the Stikine in 2008, compared to 56,000 in 2007.
“We’re definitely at a low point in returns, but hopefully they’ll come back,” said Frank Quinn, Yukon-area director of the department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“They say the salmon will rebound, but I can’t wait that long,” said Mark.
While their business may have been put into jeopardy by the shortage, it has had little effect on mega-retailers, said the Richardsons.
“Big guys like Sobeys and Stupid Store (feel free to call them that) … those guys that sit on million-dollar bank accounts, when they call up and say, ‘I want 20,000 pounds’ they get them,” said Jodi.
Sobeys and Superstore could not be reached for comment.
This season, faced with vanishing supply lines, Wharf on Fourth has had to go to great lengths to capture what they could of existing fish catches.
To get halibut, the store bought it from Juneau, flew it to Skagway on a chartered aircraft, and then trucked it to Whitehorse.
The only alternative was buying from Vancouver — but the fish wouldn’t have lasted the journey north.
Global fish shortages can only increase unless drastic measures are taken to curb overfishing, said the couple.
“We are now starting to reap what we’ve sown,” said Jodi.
“Halibut stocks will not come back until they stop fishing halibut, period,” said Mark.
“They literally need to put a moratorium on it,” said Jodi.
“It will be like the cod on the East Coast — they’ll fish it until it’s no more and then it’s too late” said Mark.