Valdez Fish Derbies comes to a close but the work is far from over

Tom Karlsten of St. Cloud, FL
Winner of the 2019 Silver Salmon Derby

Most people are aware of the contests and prizes put on by Valdez Fish Derbies, but few are aware of what a big undertaking the Derbies are and how many details are involved. Here at KVAK, employees prepped the website for the 2019 season shortly after the close of the 2018 season. And every day from May 18th through September 1st, KVAK employees uploaded pictures from the weigh-in
station and recorded weekly and daily winners on the website.

The day following special events, like the Kids Derby and Women’s Derby, several employees spent almost the entire day uploading media, updating the website and writing and sending press releases to Statewide media. “This is just one piece of the puzzle that is the Fish Derbies,” said station owner Laurie Prax. “KVAK gets paid a small stipend for maintaining the website,” said owner Laurie Prax “but it doesn’t begin to cover the time spent updating the site.

And KVAK is not the only business or person contributing time and talents to the Valdez Fish Derbies. Joanne Winney coordinated volunteers to staff the weigh-in from May 18th through September 1st . The Valdez derby is the longest running in the state so staffing it four hours a day during the halibut derby and eight hours during the silver salmon derby amounts to a lot of volunteer hours. With events like the
Valdez Kids Pink Salmon Derby and Women’s Silver Salmon Derby, the organization has to find additional volunteers to staff special days and tally winners during the frenzy of weigh-ins.

Debbie Yamakami of Arts Design is instrumental in weigh-in services for special events, signage, designing amazing t-shirt logos, merchandising and coordinating prizes. There wouldn’t be a derby at all without the tireless work of Dana Morales who helps with every aspect of the derby. Morales started pursuing sponsors for the Valdez Fish Derbies in October of last year and made countless phone calls to secure funding and prizes. Morales is the bookkeeper for Valdez Fish Derbies, but she does everything – from printing weigh-in signs to tracking down derby tickets.

Support from businesses selling derby tickets is instrumental but they have to be picked up on a regular basis and that’s where Sarah VonBargen and Morales come in. They collect money and tickets on a regular basis every year from mid May through the end of the derby. It is hard to mention all of the individuals involved in the Derbies. With tickets priced at only $10 per day or $50 for the season, the non- profit organization brings in just over $100,000 in ticket sales each year and about $30,000 in local sponsorship support. Every year about $70,000 to $80,000 is given away in cash and prizes so that doesn’t leave very much for operating expenses. And that is why most everyone who works on the derby is contributing valuable unpaid volunteer hours.

The role of a Valdez Fish Derby Committee member is unglamorous but very important. This group of volunteers meets year-round to discuss and determine a myriad of things. Their regular yearly duties include formulating a budget, reviewing rules, developing a marketing plan, approving trade show attendance, purchasing advertising, securing sponsors, setting event dates and prize amounts, calibrating scales, securing event locations and deciding on and supporting community service projects.

When the Chamber of Commerce closed its doors in the late 1990’s, a small group of volunteers stepped up to run the derby. The group borrowed $50,000 from the City to get started and returned the money the following year. The derby currently is it’s own non-profit corporation run by seven volunteer committee members. While Valdez Fish Derbies appreciates the donated use of the Valdez Civic Center for the Women’s Derby, the organization receives no cash from the City of Valdez or State of Alaska. The group is self-sustaining, operating solely on private funds generated from ticket and sponsorship sales. The Board Members are: Laura Saxe, Mike Wells, Joe Prax, Will Stark, Bonnie Woods, Laurie Prax and Debbie Yamakami. Dana Morales serves as Derby Coordinator year-round. If you are interested in sponsorship or volunteering, contact Dana Morales at:

CLICK HERE to read a hand-out put together a few years ago for Women’s Derby that provides more explanation on what Valdez Fish Derbies does in the community.