Oregon Salmon, Pink Shrimp Success Continues

Predictions sometimes prove accurate, and the 2014 salmon
and pink shrimp seasons off Oregon’s shores are good examples.
In February, salmon fishery managers said at worst, this
season could mirror last year’s upturn, at best provide another step upward as
the Oregon salmon fishery continues to chart a course away from a multi-year
Strong abundance forecasts for coho, as well as Sacramento
River and Klamath River fall Chinook, anticipated great returns of Chinook
salmon destined for key river basins of the Columbia River Basin on Oregon’s
northern coast, the Klamath River Basin on Oregon’s southern coast, and
California’s Central Valley pointed to good Chinook catches along the entire
Oregon coast. Coho population level were expected at such that fishery managers
said they “should provide the most time on the water for coho fishing since the
2010 season.” Northwest biologists predicted the largest fall Chinook salmon run
since 1938, the year record keeping began. They said an “unprecedented” 1.6
million Chinook could return from the Pacific Ocean to the tributaries that
make up the Columbia River Basin that, along with nearly 1 million coho
returns, could lead to what fishery managers say would be “a year to remember”
for both commercial and recreational salmon fishermen.
“This should be a great year to be out on the ocean,” said
Chris Kern, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) administrator for
ocean salmon fisheries. So far, it is.
“It’s going very well,” said Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive
director of the Oregon Salmon Commission. “Catch and value has already
surpassed last year by a long shot. We’re seeing some nice, big fish.”
As of mid-September, commercial fishermen had landed more
than 1.7 million pounds valued at more than $11 million, with a fair amount of
fishing left to do. Prices to the boat rose as high as $8 to $9 per pound in
April, but have since dropped and leveled out, with an average price of $6.28
per pound through the first six months of the season. By comparison, they
landed 1.3 million pounds in 2013 worth $7.6 million, and 745,000 pounds in
2012 worth $4.2 million.
“We’re definitely back up since the disasters,” Fitzpatrick
noted. “Last year was good. This year is outstanding.” Outstanding, at least,
compared to the doldrums salmon fishermen endured from 2005 to 2010.
Commercial salmon fishermen watched their livelihoods
dwindle to almost nothing during those seasons, even the promising ones in 2011
and 2012 that didn’t really reach their anticipated potentials. Since 2004,
when Oregon’s salmon trollers landed 2.9 million pounds of fish, and 2005, when
they hauled in 2.6 million pounds, they have endured a federally-declared
disaster in 2006, a well-below-average catch in 2007, another
federally-declared disaster in 2008, a basically non-existent 2009 season, a
somewhat improved, yet quite limited season in 2010, a disappointing 2011, when
fish were scarce, despite healthy forecasts, followed by improved, but less
than stellar results in 2012.
The cumulative economic effects during that stretch of poor
salmon fishing opportunities were substantial, not just for the commercial
fishery, but recreational, marine and freshwater fisheries and the communities
that depend on them. Commercial salmon fishermen have lost much of the capacity
to fish, and wishing and hoping had become standard gear.
Despite the significant improvement of 2013 and this season,
it’s nowhere near the fishery’s halcyon days of the 1970s and most of the
1980s, when 2,000 to 4,000 vessels plied the waters trolling for the Pacific
Northwest’s signature fish species. Harvests dropped during the early 1990s due
to decreases in many stocks and concern for critical natural stocks under both
state and federal management and the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA),
along with escalating allocation conflicts between river and ocean user groups.
Fitzpatrick said the number of vessel owners with salmon
permits dwindled from a high of 4,314 in 1980 to slightly more than 1,000 in
2011, due in large part to fishery management efforts, most notably permit
restrictions and salmon quotas. In 1980, 3,875 vessels landed salmon – the
highest on record. The worst year was 2008, when only 138 vessels landed salmon
in the middle of a federally-declared disaster season.
In 1976, salmon fishermen hauled in almost 11 million pounds
of salmon worth $14.7 million. By comparison, they landed 499,000 pounds in
2006 valued at $2.7 million, 565,000 pounds in 2007 valued at $2.8 million,
only 70,000 pounds in 2008 worth $494,000 and 146,000 pounds in 2009 valued at
just $345,000. The numbers rose in 2010 (513,000 pounds worth $2.8 million) and
2011 (403,000 pounds valued at $2.4 million), 2012 and 2013.
This year’s season kept the upward trend alive.
Still, commercial salmon fishermen have become an endangered
species themselves. Many are shunning salmon fishing and either turning to
other fisheries to maintain their livelihoods or getting out of fishing altogether
– an unpalatable decision for most of them. What the future holds remains
uncertain, and no one is exactly sure what’s behind the back-to-back seasons
uptick, since salmon survival and recovery depends on so many factors, most
notably ocean conditions.
The ocean’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality makes it difficult
for fishery managers to make accurate predictions, even in the best of times.
But for the third consecutive year, commercial fishermen are harvesting more
salmon, and this season is shaping up almost as predicted.
In the
Oregon pink shrimp fishermen are seemingly in the middle of
another gigantic season, landing good numbers as predicted by Bob Hannah and
Steve Jones from ODFW.
No official numbers were available as of press time, but Jeff
Boardman, skipper of the F/V Miss Yvonne, said things were “going really well,”
especially in Washington waters, where “a considerable part of Oregon landings”
were originating. “The Newport fleet is going up there,” Boardman added.
“Oregon is not quite as good as it has been. Washington is going to set a
The long-time commercial shrimper isn’t sure what’s causing
the shift to Washington waters, although “they had good volume last year” and
fishermen “run toward volume.” Fishermen also got a mid-season price hike.
The season ends October 31, and is seemingly on course to
maybe match last year’s catch, according to some fishery managers and market
analysts. Last season marked a three-year stretch of near-record production,
said Hannah and Jones in their annual pre-season fishery review.
“They did it even with the season opener functionally
delayed, as most of the fleet stayed at the dock for nearly three weeks due to
price negotiations,” they noted. “Once an acceptable price structure was
reached, the fleet still managed to put in 3.25 million pounds by the end of
April. The price structure and high catch rates remained fairly constant
through the season.’
That translated into 47.63 million pounds in landings in
2013, just 1.5 million pounds less than 2012. It capped the highest cumulative
three-season landings total in the fishery’s history. Monthly landings were
“far above average” in 2013, with May’s haul of 9.2 million pounds the best May
catch total since 1989.
“Monthly totals remained high through the remainder of the
season, showing a similar pattern to 2012,” said Hannah and Jones. Sixty-one
vessels landed shrimp in Oregon ports last season, down from 64 in 2012. They
made 1,017 trips compared to 1,024 in 2012. Average catch per trip was 46,833
pounds in 2013, a new record. Catch-per-trip numbers have risen steadily since
2004, and Hannah and Jones said those increases, especially from 2009 on
“reflect the high shrimp abundance available, but also suggest that harvest and
processor strategies may be at play.”
Average ex-vessel price in 2013 reached almost 51 cents per
pound, just a fraction higher than 2012. Shrimp sold at 30 to 63 cents per
pound under a four-tier, split-price structure. Overall ex-vessel value for the
landed catch reached $24.2 million, down almost $533,000 from 2012.
“Shrimpers spent more hours fishing in areas off the central
Oregon and southern Washington coasts than they did in 2012,” Hannah and Jones
The season prospects “seem very good,” noted Hannah and
Jones, “barring an unforeseen environmental shift that severely alters shrimp
abundance or distribution.” Indications pointed to “widespread high shrimp
abundance” along the coast, with conditions excellent for good hold-over of
shrimp. They anticipated enough good-grade shrimp available early in the season
(April 1-October 31) for shrimpers “to avoid potential count problems.”
Fishermen said this year’s numbers in terms of vessels and
landings are following a trend comparable to the past two seasons, and they
expect another stellar season overall.
They also continued their efforts to exclude eulachon smelt
– listed in 2012 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act – from their
A commercial fishery started in 1957, the Oregon pink shrimp
fleet is considered one of the most consistently valuable commercial trawl
fisheries in the state. Centered off the Oregon coast with operations extending
from Washington to northern California, the 45-vessel fleet, ranging in length
from 50 to 85 feet, works out of Newport, Charleston, and Astoria. Fished from
the cold waters of the Pacific, Oregon pink shrimp are – compared to the larger
species usually found in supermarkets and restaurants – the real “shrimps” of
the shrimp world, with 100 to 160 whole shrimp comprising one pound.