Oregon Ports Stimulate Coastal, State Economy

By Terry Dillman

Oregon’s commercial fishing industry is alive and well.

In fact, 2011 was an outstanding season with the highest
landed value – about $148 million – since 1988, according to statistics from
the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Oregon Coastal Zone
Management Association (OCZMA). Oregon’s commercial fishermen landed 285
million pounds of fish and shellfish – up from 216 million pounds (valued at
$108 million) in 2010.

The industry’s superlative efforts are backed by a network
of 15 ports, large and small, along Oregon’s 362-mile coastline. They feature
busy harbors that play vital roles by providing a mix of commercial, industrial
and recreational services. Most also provide refuge when the ocean turns

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 “more
important to the economic health of coastal port communities than ever before.”
Commercial fisheries and working waterfronts are essential
sources of jobs and economic growth, according to OCZMA, which conducts studies
of Oregon’s coastal economy and provides information to an extensive network of
government and other agencies, aiming to improve the region’s standard of
living. Fisheries also provide part of the overall ambience folks want to
experience when visiting the Oregon coast or opting to live there. They help
attract artists, writers and others, including a growing number of retirees,
who in turn make their own contributions to an ever-changing diverse economy
and culture. Travelers spend time watching and photographing the fishing
fleets, and visitors often show up at the coast seeking fresh, locally caught
Oregon coast ports feature a number of working waterfronts:
Astoria/Warrenton, Garibaldi, Depoe Bay, Newport, Winchester Bay, Coos
Bay/Charleston, Port Orford, Gold Beach and Brookings. In some towns,
commercial fisheries provide 25 percent or more of total annual earned income.
The seafood industry also supports associated fish processing plants,
mechanics, welders, refrigeration specialists, machine shops, marine
electronics sales and service firms, professional services (attorneys and
accountants) and marine suppliers – mostly clustered adjacent to the
All Oregon ports – from larger harbors (Coos Bay, Newport,
Astoria) that host international shipping and regional-scale fishing fleets to
smaller, shallow-draft sites with limited capabilities (Depoe Bay, Alsea) – are
integral to their communities’ lifestyles and economies.
Six Oregon ports ranked among the top 27 Pacific fishing
ports in 2010 for landings and landed value, according to statistics from the
Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Monterey Institute of International
Studies and the National Ocean Economic Program (NOEP): Astoria (4th in
landings at 100 million pounds, 5th in value at $30.5 million); Newport (5th at
57 million pounds and 4th at $30.6 million, respectively); Coos Bay-Charleston
(7th in each with 31 million pounds valued at $24 million); Brookings (16th
with 6 million pounds and 21st at $5.2 million); Tillamook (24th with 1 million
pounds and 26th at $2.6 million); and Port Orford (25th in each with 1 million
pounds valued at $3.4 million). Combined landings for those six ports reached
196 million pounds valued at $96.3 million.
Newport and Astoria, two of Oregon’s three deep draft ports,
are prime examples of what ports can do in socioeconomic terms, not only for
their commercial fishing fleets, but coastal communities and the state.
The Newport-Depoe Bay-Toledo connection
About 248 commercial fishing vessels make Oregon’s central
coast their home port – most of them in Newport, with a few each in Depoe Bay
and Toledo, according to information compiled by Fishermen Involved in Natural
Energy FINE), a Newport-based 16-member committee of mostly commercial
“We have at least double that number of commercial fishing
vessels in our county, which represents vessels that are home ported elsewhere,
but spend time fishing off of Lincoln County,” notes Bob Jacobson, a retired
commercial fisherman and Oregon Sea Grant extension agent, who chairs the
committee. “A few of these vessels are distant water vessels that spend most of
their fishing year in Alaska, returning to Lincoln County for maintenance and
repairs, and in some cases, to participate in the Dungeness crab and whiting
Vessels from British Columbia to central California ply the
waters off Oregon’s central coast, periodically selling their catch in Newport
or occasionally Depoe Bay. Newport-based vessels participating in the crab,
salmon and tuna fisheries sometimes sell their catches in other ports in
Oregon, Washington or California.
“Most of the commercial fishing fleet fish locally and sell
their catch to buyers in the area,” noted Jacobson.
Appointed by the county commissioners in 2007 to focus on
the potential impact of wave energy sites on fisheries, FINE’s members
represent the salmon, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, groundfish,
long line and distant water fisheries, charter and sports fishing, and seafood
processors, as well as the small Depoe Bay fleet, and a non-fishing charter
business. The group was forged in the wake of the realization that looming wave
energy interests could threaten commercial fishermen’s livelihoods, opting to
proactively counter what they viewed as the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission’s willy-nilly surge to license wave energy sites. County and Oregon
Sea Grant officials backed the effort, providing administrative support and
acting as liaison between FINE and wave energy researchers and developers.
Jacobson said FINE believes in “an open approach and
cooperation” between fishing communities and wave energy researchers and
developers. It derives from the general attitude of the central coast
commercial fishing industry, which he said “traditionally works very
cooperatively with each other and with outside entities.”
That attitude bodes well for an industry seemingly under
siege from all directions and various sources, including nature itself at
To varying degrees, the ports of Newport, Depoe Bay and
Toledo provide services to commercial vessels of all sizes, ranging from 18
feet to 126 feet long and valued anywhere from $5,000 to $3 million apiece.
Newport Evolving
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.
The port is also 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. When the 22-month
effort reached what Port General Manager Don Mann called “the transition from
construction to commissioning and operation,” and NOAA signed the initial
20-year lease and took over the facility in July 2011, it marked a major
turning point for a port that celebrated its centennial in 2010. At the time,
Lincoln County Commissioner and long-time commercial fisherman Terry Thompson
said he looked forward to “a new cooperation” between the fishing industry and
the research NOAA’s fleet performs, noting that it was something he had always
hoped to see within his lifetime.
According to an economic impact analysis released by the
Economic Development Alliance (EDA) of Lincoln County, the move could mean as
much as a $32 million influx – the equivalent of 800 full-time family wage jobs
in Lincoln County – within the next decade.
But while local, state, and federal officials focused on the
much-anticipated economic boost, the heart of this project was and is marine
science, research, and education, with Newport – in particular the South Beach
peninsula, where Oregon State University (OSU)’s Hatfield Marine Science Center
(HMSC) and Oregon Coast Aquarium are already located – as a pivot point. They
believe the NOAA facility’s presence could help take South Beach to the next
level, transforming it into an international hub for research and development
on ocean health, which is a key component in climate change. Even without
factoring in the value of attracting additional marine science research, the
impact still eventually pencils out to about $20 million annually in the local
and regional economy, the EDA study noted.
During the competitive lease process, Port of Newport
officials touted the city as having “the best working waterfront on the West
Mann said they continue to work on enhancing the port’s
diversity, without neglecting traditional uses.
Another major project to renovate the port’s international
terminal is expected to wrap up by the end of this year. 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 is standing on the cusp of economic prosperity forged
from a diverse mix of traditional and emerging industries.
Commercial fishing remains a viable and visible part of that
Inland But Vital
Located about an hour’s journey up the Yaquina River, the
Port of Toledo offers moorage for only a few commercial vessels, but its main
contribution is the boatyard at Sturgeon Bend.
Port officials purchased the 20-acre site after a private
owner shut it down in 2008, ending a decade of service to commercial fishermen.
Port Manager Bud Shoemake said they oversee the facility as a public boatyard
operated by private industry under contract with the port. As a result, the
port offers fishermen a do-it-yourself facility with access to “the best
service possible” through its group of preferred and approved independent
contractors. Shoemake calls the open yard a “one-stop shop” for maintenance and
vessel preparation, offering a full range of services, including a 300-ton dry
dock capable of handling vessels up to 100 feet long and 46 feet wide.
Fishermen say they like having the option on the easily
navigable, well-marked Yaquina River.
Small But Serviceable
Depoe Bay – a six-acre harbor promoted as “the world’s
smallest” – can’t accommodate larger vessels. The harbormaster says anything
longer than 50 feet requires prior notification to the US Coast Guard Station
there before entering.
For years, the tiny bay served as a safe harbor for
commercial vessels taking refuge from storms, and today it acts as home port
for only a handful of commercial vessels, along with a limited number of
charter boats and private launches. Fishermen say navigating the stone entrance
– often referred to as “shooting the hole” – requires strategy and caution.
With an entry less than 50 feet wide and 300 feet long, the harbor managers
require a standard procedure when entering or leaving.
Skippers are asked to go to VHF channel 80 and announce
their intentions. If they get the “all clear,” they know they can safely avoid
disastrous consequences. Most crews know to give one long horn blast on the way
out, two long blasts on the way in. Inbound vessels get priority.
Diverse Capabilities
Located at the northwestern tip of Oregon where the Columbia
River feeds into the Pacific Ocean, the Port of Astoria 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.
An economic impact study commissioned by port officials in
2009 showed that the port and its tenant generated about $110 million in direct
revenue, including $59 million at the piers and associated upland areas, and
$17 million at the marinas and boatyard. Since 1999, commercial landings at
Astoria have eclipsed 100 million pounds every year except 2008, when it
dropped to 99 million pounds, according to stats compiled by NOEP and CBE.
Fishermen had banner years for overall landings in 2005 (164.7 million pounds),
2006 (164.2 million) and 207 (152.6 million). Landed value, however, has
remained rather steady during that time, ranging from $20.6 million to $32
Port officials said the port would continue to play a key
role in supporting commercial fisheries.
A strategic business plan developed in 2010 focuses first on
enhancing the central waterfront and Tongue Point facilities. Improvements
could include as many as three 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 Oregon’s commercial
fishing industry “has fared well, especially in comparison to neighboring
Washington and California” and that Astoria would remain “a focal area” for
Oregon’s commercial fisheries.
A Socioeconomic Network
Collectively, Oregon’s ports forge “an important regional
network of maritime infrastructure,” says Onno Husing, former executive
director of OCZMA.
Heading north to south, Oregon’s coastal ports and harbors
are Port of Astoria (www.portofastoria.com), Port of Garibaldi
(www.portofgaribaldi.com), Port of Nehalem (no website), Port of Tillamook Bay
(www.potb.org), City of Depoe Bay (www.ci.depoe-bay.or.us), Port of Newport
(www.portofnewport.com), Port of Toledo (www.portoftoledo.org), Port of Alsea
(www.portofalsea.com), Port of Siuslaw (www.portofsiuslaw.com), Port of Umpqua
(www.portofumpqua.com), Oregon International Port of Coos Bay
(www.portofcoosbay.com), Port of Bandon (www.portofbandon.com), Port of
Coquille River (no website), Port of Port Orford (www.portofportorford.com) and
Port of Brookings Harbor (www.port-brookings-harbor.org).