Written by Ann Marie Murphy. Photos by Stephen Ward, Extension and Experiment Station Communications.
The inaugural Clatsop County Commercial Fisheries Tour welcomed—and enlightened—a hundred guests in Astoria on May 31, 2017. The goal of the first-ever community organized fisheries tour was to educate local, state and federal elected leaders about the economic value of and sustainable management practices used by the seafood processing and fishing industries. The event provided a forum for open dialogue and relationship building among community leaders, fishermen, seafood processors, and other stakeholders involved in the commercial fishing industry.
The fisheries tour audience learned:
- Fishing is a meaningful way of life.
- North Coast fisheries inject millions of dollars into the state’s economy.
- Labor shortages and housing availability for seasonal workers are critical issues facing the industry.
- Newer net and trap technology let non-target fish to escape, virtually eliminating bycatch.
- Federal, state and industry cooperation—and using the best science available—ensure long-term sustainable commercial, cultural and recreational fisheries.
“The goal of the fisheries tour is to help decision-makers understand the industry and its issues.” Patrick Corcoran, Oregon Sea Grant and OSU Extension Service county leader for Clatsop County
The fishing community on the North Coast identified the need for better-informed community leaders and came together to educate, inform and connect with elected officials, including Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, government agency staff, local bankers, and other local decision-makers. OSU Extension in Clatsop County played an indispensable role in the event, but it was a community effort. In addition to Amanda Gladics, coastal fisheries Extension faculty member with Oregon Sea Grant; Patrick Corcoran, Oregon Sea Grant; and Lindsay Davis, OSU Extension – Clatsop County; other steering committee members included Andrew Bornstein, Bornstein Seafoods; Hiram Cho, Pacific Coast Seafoods; John Corbin, Buck & Ann Fisheries; Kurt Englund, Englund Marine & Industrial Supply; Kevin Leahy, Clatsop Economic Development Resources, Chang Lee, Great Ocean Da Yang Seafood Inc.; and Scott McMullen, Oregon Fishermen’s Cable Committee.
“The steering committee wanted to show that the fishing industry is a vital, driving force of our North Coast economy,” said Amanda Gladics. “The OSU Extension Service served to convene the steering committee and worked with them to refine and prioritize their goals. OSU Extension in Clatsop County also supports an annual forestry tour, now in its 27th year, that served as a model for the fisheries tour. It was really satisfying to facilitate this community-led learning experience and see such a positive response from community leaders.”
The regional and global connections of Clatsop County’s commercial fishing sector were highlighted during the opening presentations and as participants visited WCT Marine & Construction Inc., a marine repair facility, Pacific Coast Seafoods’ temporary processing facility at Tongue Point, the Great Ocean Da Yang Seafood Inc. processing facility, and over lunch at Englund Marine and Industrial Supply, a marine supplier. Questions posed by the audience deepened the understanding of the issues:
Q: Are we getting new fishermen?
A: It is harder to find good crew and there is not enough demand for a community college fisheries degree program. People can make a good living, but crewing or working in canneries is hard work.
Q: How do we sustain our fleet?
A: Educate high school counselors that fisheries is a good job. All the fisheries commission will start going to job fairs.
Q: What do we need to do to build the ship repair and new vessel construction businesses in Astoria?
A: Substantial commitments are needed from the state, county, port and city to improve the port. For Tongue Point to be a regionally competitive ship repair facility, the port would need to install a boatlift, deepen waters, address contamination issues and replace sewage infrastructure. There is nothing else on the North Coast like J&H and WCT Marine, but from the port’s perspective, the investment economics do not pencil out (the port currently loses $260,000/year and a boat lift costs $4 million).
Presenters highlighted Oregon’s major fishing sectors: Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, groundfish, albacore tuna, and salmon.
Dungeness crab is the backbone of Oregon fisheries. It experienced a record $60 million harvest in 2017. It takes about four years for a Dungeness crab to reach harvestable size. Strict guidelines ensure small and female crabs are returned to the ocean to safeguard future harvests.
- The Oregon crab fleet has 424 boats.
- Crab Season typically runs from December to August.
- There are six major ports running the length of the Oregon Coast.
To learn more about the crabbing industry and its importance to Oregon, visit OregonDungeness.org.
Did you know that Oregon has a shrimp fishery? The Oregon Trawl Commission provides leadership to the shrimp and groundfish fisheries. Trawling is a method of fishing that involves pulling a fishing net through the water behind one or more boats. There are more trawlers in Oregon than anywhere else on the West Coast, and most of those are located between Astoria and Warrenton.
“Fisheries are well-managed for the long-term, for the future. Every person is accountable for everything he or she catches. The transition was difficult, but depleted fisheries are being rebuilt so they can be fished again. It’s a real success story.” Scott McMullen, Oregon Fishermen’s Cable Committee
According to commission Executive Director Nancy Fitzpatrick, the Oregon Albacore Commission and the Oregon Salmon Commission have started providing canned fish, recipes and a few other ingredients to Central Oregon school kids to create a greater “farm” to table connection. Started in Seaside, Oregon, the program serves as a model for schools statewide.
- The Oregon albacore fishing fleet has 350-500 boats.
- Albacore fishing season runs from June to October.
- There are 17 ports running the length of the Oregon Coast.
A strong U.S. dollar creates competitive challenges. The majority of Oregon’s catch ships overseas—to Africa, Ukraine, Nordic and other countries. Investing in automation helps drive down costs and offset the shortage of labor, reducing the need for labor in processing plants by up to two-thirds, or more. The loss of container shipping out of the Port of Portland forces processed fish from Oregon to be transported to Tacoma or Seattle, increasing costs.
The Columbia River Basin, which spans two countries, seven states and 13 federally recognized Indian reservations, is the largest freshwater contributor to the Pacific Ocean. Natural resource management throughout the basin is essential to healthy fisheries and to the livelihoods of 150,000 Oregon workers. Cultural and recreational aspects of salmon and other fisheries need to be respected and understood.
- The Oregon salmon fishing fleet has 350-450 active fishing boats.
- Salmon fishing season typically runs from April to October.
- There are 17 ports running the length of the Oregon Coast.
“We need to use the best available science,” stated Steve Fick, Fishhawk Fisheries, to the lunchtime audience. “If you have healthy salmon stock, then you have healthy wildlife populations. And healthy industries that provide living wages and contribute to the local, county and state tax base…and the ripple of revenue injections into the economy.”
For another fisheries outreach experience, this time for the public, save July 14 and September 15 as days to “Shop at the Dock & Beyond” in Warrenton. Join Oregon Sea Grant to learn about local commercial fisheries, how to buy seafood directly from fishermen, and for a behind the scenes tour of Skipanon Brand Seafood cannery. View a PDF of the event: dock_shop_NorthCoast. Newport offers a “Shop at the Dock” experience, too. Here’s the Newport summer schedule: dock_shop_2017_3.