Oregon, California Ports Offer Refuge, Commerce, Community

By Terry Dillman 

“Any port in a storm.”

Often erroneously used by landlubbers as a metaphor for
sailing past any situation, dangerous or not, this time-worn idiom can
sometimes mean the difference between life or death for commercial fishermen
and other seafarers. Fortunately, Oregon and California each offer a network of
coastal ports that provide refuge from rough seas, as well as markets for
commercial fishermen’s catches and a place to call home. These harbors are
alive with varying and eclectic mixes of commercial, industrial and
recreational activities and services.
Oregon – Newport and Astoria
Oregon’s 363-mile coastline features a network of 15 ports –
from large harbors that host international shipping and regional-scale fishing
fleets to smaller, shallow-draft sites with limited capabilities – integral to
their communities’ lifestyles and economies. Collectively, Oregon’s ports forge
“an important regional network of maritime infrastructure,” according
to the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association (OCZMA), which studies the
Oregon coast economy and conveys information to an extensive network of
government officials and others, aiming to improve the region’s standard of
Newport and Astoria, two of Oregon’s three deep draft ports
(along with Coos Bay), are prime examples of what ports can do in socioeconomic
terms, not only for their commercial fishing fleets, but coastal communities
and the state.
About 250 commercial fishing vessels make Oregon’s central
coast their home port – most of them in Newport, with a few each in the
“world’s smallest harbor” at Depoe Bay and inland up the Yaquina
River at Toledo, according to information compiled by Fishermen Involved in
Natural Energy (FINE), a Newport-based 16-member committee of mostly commercial
The Port of Newport features 206 commercial vessel slips, 54
waterway related businesses, and a distant water fleet that annually brings in
between $14 million and $32 million to the local economy. To varying degrees,
along with the ports of Depoe Bay and Toledo, Newport provides services to
commercial vessels of all sizes, ranging in length from 18 feet to 126 feet.
The port is home to US Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay and
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Marine Operations
Center-Pacific, which opened in 2011 under a 20-year lease after the port took
on a $38 million project to build the facility. Port officials also point to
the completion of another major project – the refurbishing of the port’s
international terminal, which became fully operational in January. The 17-acre
site features 1,000 feet of deep draft waterfront, docks and storage facilities,
and several acres of industrial land. Factoring in that project, which port
officials say has already drawn intense interest from timber exporting ventures
and cruise lines, Newport stands on the cusp of economic prosperity forged from
a diverse mix of traditional and emerging industries.
The Port of Astoria is tacking along a similar course.
Located at the northwestern tip of Oregon where the Columbia
River feeds into the Pacific Ocean, the port manages a combination of
commercial and recreational marine, marina, industrial and aviation facilities,
and leases property for industrial and commercial services, including fish
processing plants.
Home to 138 commercial fishing vessels, the port provides
commercial berthing, seafood processing and fleet support. Pier 1 and Pier 2
are its primary deep water piers, with most commercial fishing services offered
at Pier 2, with three fish processors, a 71,800-square-foot multi-tenant
warehouse, fish off-loading and net haul-out areas, and a dock that can
accommodate vessels as long as 1,100 feet. Maintenance, repair, active and
inactive services are available at the Pier 3 haul-out boatyard at Tongue
Point, which features an 88-ton travel lift. A strategic business plan
developed in 2010 focuses on enhancing the central waterfront and Tongue Point
facilities. Planned improvements include multi-tenant industrial buildings,
cold storage and cannery facilities, and acquiring a 250- to 300-ton capacity
mobile crane and standby tug service.
The business plan noted that Astoria would remain “a
focal area” for Oregon’s commercial fisheries.
California – Fort Bragg and Half Moon Bay
California’s 840-mile coastline features 46 ports of varying
sizes and capabilities. Leaders of the California Fisheries Coalition, which
represents 27 marine-related organizations, say fish and shellfish brought to
those ports and marketed statewide, nationally and overseas by more than 14,000
fishermen and more than 200 seafood companies, contributes more than $5.5
billion annually to California’s economy.
Commercial fishing tradition is rich at ports in historic
Fort Bragg and Half Moon Bay.
Located 170 miles north of San Francisco, Noyo Harbor and
adjacent Fort Bragg are situated near highly productive fishing grounds for
salmon, groundfish, urchin, crab, abalone and shrimp. Port officials say most
resident fishermen participate in more than one fishery, and fishermen say the
80-vessel fleet includes about 30 to 40 salmon trollers, 15 to 20 multi-fishery
vessels, 10 to 15 urchin dive boats and seven groundfish trawlers.
The harbor district, Dolphin Isle Marina and a cluster of
about 25 businesses at or near the harbor, along with others in the region,
provide considerable infrastructure, goods and services to support fishing
activities. Local support businesses offer everything from fuel and ice to
refrigeration, vessel repair and maintenance. Fish receiving and processing
capacity includes six buyers with receiving stations at the harbor, three
on-site processors and a live fish buyer.
While much of the catch is processed locally, buyers say
some of it is shipped out of the area for processing and distribution. Several
fishermen and local buyers sell salmon, crab, groundfish and albacore tuna
either off-the-boat or through other direct sales.
Located 28 miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay’s
Pillar Point Harbor on California’s central coast is home to most of the
central coast’s commercial fishing fleet. The harbor features 369 berths,
pump-out facility, ice-making facility, fuel dock and community fish buying
Major investments in outer and inner breakwaters by the San
Mateo County Harbor District created what district officials consider “the
most protected harbor of refuge” along the coast. The district has also
invested in berthing and launching facilities and equipment upgrades. Pillar
Point also provides a top-notch search-and-rescue service, which officials say
performs 110 rescues each year, has saved more than 100 lives and
“millions of dollars in boats and equipment.”
Like other commercial fishing ports along both the Oregon
and California coasts, Pillar Point is also home to experienced
multi-generational fishermen, including Jim Anderson, skipper of the F/V

Anderson, who fishes for Dungeness crab and salmon, is – like
most of his fellow fishermen – an advocate for the industry, immersing himself
at various times in the workings of the California Salmon Council, the state’s
Dungeness Crab Task Force, and the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Marketing
Association, among other things. He says fishermen have “always understood
sustainability” and the need to protect ocean resources, but he wants to
help the fleet and “the folks I’ve grown up with” to plot a course
through an ever-changing regulatory and economic climate.
They also want to keep fishing ports like Half Moon Bay,
Fort Bragg, Newport and Astoria thriving.
Leaders at the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association
(PNWA) say ports are critical to the economic survival of their communities,
with international trade, commercial fishing and recreational boating becoming
“more important to the economic health of coastal port communities than
ever before.” Business analysts, port officials and fishermen say the
vitality of each port is essential, because the migratory nature of many
Pacific fish stocks – most notably, salmon and albacore tuna – or simply the
pursuit of a catch in the best locales for certain fisheries, such as Dungeness
crab or groundfish, find most commercial fishermen operating out of more
harbors than just their home ports as fishing seasons change.
As they say, any port in a storm, whether it’s literal or
Economists say commercial fisheries and working waterfronts
remain essential sources of jobs and economic growth along both the Oregon and
California coasts.
Fisheries also provide part of the overall ambience folks
want to experience when visiting the coast – or opting to live there. They
attract artists, writers and others, including retirees, who in turn make their
own contributions to an ever-diversifying economy and culture. Visitors spend
time watching and photographing the fishing fleets, and travelers often show up
at the coast seeking fresh, locally caught seafood.

Port and agency officials in both states say ports continue
to play a key role in supporting commercial fisheries.