Oregon Fisheries Net More Value in 2011 Harvest, prices were up for most commercial fishermen

More seafood, far more value.

 That sums up the 2011 season for most Oregon fisheries, according to Oregon
Department of Agriculture (ODA) officials and a consortium of four Oregon
seafood commissions.

Nick Furman, director of Seafood Oregon – a consortium featuring the Oregon
Dungeness Crab Commission (ODCC), Oregon Trawl Commission (OTC), Oregon Salmon
Commission (OCS) and Oregon Albacore Commission (OAC) – said the state’s
commercial seafood and fishing industry had an outstanding year, in fact the
best in 23 years, with overall harvest value exceeding $145 million for all
Oregon fisheries.

Both the amounts harvested (285 million pounds of fish and shellfish, up
substantially from 216 million pounds in 2010) and dollar value were the best
in nearly three decades. But the real key, at least for fishermen’s economic
survival, lies in the dollar value.

“We remind fishermen that it’s not the pounds of fish that you take to the
bank,” Furman noted. “It’s the dollars you take to the bank.”

The influx gave the state’s struggling coastal communities a much-needed
boost, say ODA marketing experts, who have worked diligently for years to
promote Oregon seafood in various export markets.

Among them are the researchers with the Oregon State University (OSU)
Extension Service, Oregon Sea Grant, and Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC),
the university’s campus for research, education and outreach in marine and
coastal sciences located in Newport’s South Beach district. With its annual
budget of almost $46 million, 300 university, state and federal employees, and
150,000 visitors to the education outreach and free-choice learning center,
HMSC plays a key role in Oregon’s coastal economy.

Much of the impact is in the seafood industry, where research efforts aim to
keep seafood harvested off Oregon’s shore fresh, safe, plentiful and

For example, food technologists developed a thin edible protective film to
coat fish fillets and keep them fresh much longer. OSU researcher Jae Park has
helped surimi – low-value fish processed into a high-value seafood product used
to imitate crab and scallops – become an international commodity, which has
helped revitalize fisheries in Oregon and beyond. And the Community Seafood
Initiative (CSI) in Newport supports the commercial fishing industry and
coastal communities by providing access to applied research and capital via a
non-profit organization led by Executive Director Heather Mann and a
nine-member board.

“We believe a knowledgeable industry is a powerful industry,” said Mann.
“Listening to and providing seafood industry representatives and businesses
with access to credible and accurate information allows them to not only better
position themselves competitively, it also allows them to make proactive
strategic decisions rather than reactionary choices.”

Among other things, CSI helps preserve seafood-related working waterfronts,
offers value-added product development services, and operates the FishTrax
program – a pioneer effort that uses an electronic fishing information system
to deliver essential information to key markets and consumers.

Fishermen must still harvest and the prices must be right to make their
efforts worthwhile.

Marketing experts consider the 2011 numbers even more impressive given the
fact that Oregon fisheries are harvesting seafood in a widely recognized
sustainable way. Four of those fisheries – Dungeness crab, albacore tuna, pink
shrimp and Pacific whiting – have earned certification from the international
Marine Stewardship Council, indicating they are well managed and
environmentally neutral, thus ensuring sustainable harvests.

Many fishermen say Oregon’s territorial sea is the healthiest they’ve seen
in years, perhaps decades.

“While the volume of fish coming in has increased, it hasn’t been at the
expense of healthy fisheries and the stocks available,” said Furman. “All this
speaks well for the health of the ocean, it speaks well for the management
schemes presently in place that ensure we have sustainably-harvested stocks.
The result is the increase in pounds of fish harvested and dollar value.”

The $145 million gleaned in 2011 easily bested 2010’s $105 million, and
stood about 44 percent above the annual average for the past decade.

Most Oregon fisheries netted higher prices and had higher catches.

Pink shrimp fishermen finished with their best season since 1992, hauling in
48 million pounds of high-grade shrimp with a to-the-fleet value of $24.6
million. While the catch benefitted the fishermen and processors, it also
supplied a growing demand for exports, bringing added revenue to coastal
communities. With about three months still to go in the season, Dungeness
crabbers have already netted $44 million as export demand in Asia boosted
ex-vessel prices to “unheard of levels,” reaching a record-high average of
$3.37 per pound, easily besting last year’s $2.30 average, said Furman.

“The big story right now is definitely price,” he added. “Oregon is doing
something right, and it is represented by healthy stocks, good volume and
prices that are going through the roof because of the global economy and
worldwide demand for seafood.”

Price also boosted the fortunes of the albacore tuna fishery, which brought
in an average haul of 9.5 million pounds, but fetched a 33-year high of $18.7
million as high demand drove market prices sky-high.

Not everyone prospered.

At 2.4 million pounds, salmon landings were well below expectations – even
somewhat less than 2010, which was another dismal year for salmon trollers.
Prices were slightly higher than 2010, but fishermen said they weren’t high
enough to make up for lack of fish.

“Everyone was optimistic, but the fish simply didn’t show up as much as
expected,” Furman said. “Last year was the first time in several years that
trollers got to fish the Oregon coast for salmon.” This year, he noted, looks
more promising, with higher harvest quotas and high fish numbers.

The sardine fishery also dropped, as Oregon landings were well below the
norm, bringing a harvest value of $3.2 million – well below the $5.3 million in

Overall, however, 2011 proved quite profitable for Oregon fisheries ports
and coastal communities, and Furman said they’re “seeing evidence of the same
level of activity” in 2012.

Terry Dillman can be reached at tdwordwright@gmail.com