By Terry Dillman
Call it the little port that can.
Located seven miles inland from Oregon’s central coast on the banks of the Yaquina River and adjacent sloughs, the Port of Toledo encompasses 443 square miles of territory, including the cities of Toledo and nearby Siletz, as well as a considerable chunk of unincorporated land in Lincoln County. Operating since 1910, the port’s main focal point is Toledo’s waterfront on Depot Slough, a longtime haven for commercial moorage and marine-related businesses catering to the needs of commercial fishermen. Among them are Yaquina Boat Equipment, providing repair and manufacturing for commercial vessels since 1968, and Winter Hawk Seafood, which sells salmon, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab and Pacific halibut – caught aboard the Newport, Oregon-based F/V Winter Hawk – directly to the public.
Port Manager Bud Shoemake said the port’s key role is economic development for the region, especially traditional industries like commercial and recreational fisheries. One recent marine business addition and pending enhancements at another should keep those economic ambitions on course.
Fishpeople of the Pacific Northwest officially opened its new seafood processing facility on August 15 in the port’s office complex, located in Toledo’s former fire hall. Exactly one week later, Shoemake announced receiving a $4,673,000 ConnectOregon grant to pursue a planned build-out of the port’s Yaquina Boatyard, which since its inception in 2010 has forged a reputation as one of Oregon’s premier vessel service and repair facilities.
In a Flash
Founded in 2012 by former commercial fisherman Duncan Berry and financier Kipp Baratoff, Fishpeople wants folks “to have fresh fish anytime, anywhere” by providing “some of the world’s most prized seafood” caught off Oregon’s shore – salmon, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab, pink shrimp – as part of “all-natural, value-added” entrees sold by “trend-setting natural retailers” and larger conventional supermarket outlets. Their “dock to dinner plate” process promises high quality, fresh-tasting seafood for the consumer, while simultaneously protecting ocean resources and boosting the economic fortunes of the fishermen and coastal communities that rely on those resources.
“We are a place defined by our fish. We are all fish people,” said Berry.
Fishpeople entrees went into grocery stores and seafood departments throughout the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2012, and soups debuted in autumn 2013. With products already on shelves in 2,000 outlets, Berry and Baratoff want to extend the company’s reach by having consumers eating fresh Oregon seafood “from sea to shining sea.” And they want to do it their way, or more precisely, the seafood consumers’ way.
“We understand the new seafood customer,” Baratoff said, noting that those consumers want fresh wild fish caught in a sustainable, eco-friendly fashion.
Market analysts say about 85 to 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States (including Oregon, Washington and California) is imported. About 80 to 90 percent of Oregon’s seafood catch is exported to other states, and other nations (mainly Canada, Japan, China, South Korea, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Spain). And about 70 percent is consumed in restaurants for one main reason: convenience.
Mike Marshall, Fishpeople’s operations manager, said they want to drastically change those statistics, or at least make a noticeable dent in them.
Landing the processing plant in Toledo gives them a vital piece in their corporate plan that “let’s us do what we’ve wanted to do since the company started,” noted Marshall.
Port officials netted a $250,000 loan for initial construction (most repaid via revenues) – $40,000 of it “forgiven” if the plant creates eight new jobs in Toledo. Gov. John Kitzhaber signed an agreement to provide a $30,000 state loan if those jobs are maintained. The United States Department of Agriculture recently added a $30,000 grant for additional renovations and quality control measures at the processing facility.
“It’s all about partnerships,” said Shoemake, calling it “a step in the right direction,” despite some concerns from nearby residents, who were still leery after the city’s prior bad experience with a now-defunct slime eel facility only a few blocks from the Fishpeople site.
Berry, Baratoff and Marshall said Fishpeople wants to “lift all boats” by creating a recognizable market brand that keeps the value of Pacific Northwest fisheries where it belongs: at home in local communities. Fishpeople, they noted, also wants to create “a different relationship with the sea.” Above all, they “want to support the fishermen who go out to sea every day.”
“We belong here as much as the fish do,” said Berry. “But how we’re here needs to change, or we’re not going to have a lot of seafood left.”
Fishpeople, they noted, aims to “strike a balance” between human communities and ocean communities in a way that “resonates with” consumers and the fishing industry by “creating a brand community of fishermen, processors, transport companies, and retailers, all working together” to give seafood customers what they demand: freshness, convenience, and sustainably harvested seafood. As “a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment,” Fishpeople creates its own “local waters rating” of fish species based on ratings by the international Marine Stewardship Council and Monterrey Bay Seafood Watch, but “tailored to local conditions” using information gleaned from federal and state agencies, non-profit environmental organizations, leading universities, and Native American tribal sources.
Berry said they believe the Oregon Coast’s future lies in adding value to its natural resources, including seafood, instead of shipping them raw and unimproved for others in distant locations to benefit.
“The seafood in our value-added meals is worth five times more than it is in the back of a freezer truck leaving the state,” said Baratoff. “More money stays here in our coastal communities, where it’s needed most.” Doing so, he noted, could keep $400 million in annual revenues in communities on Oregon’s central coast. Statewide, potential value-added revenue is an estimated $1.14 billion.
The Fishpeople process starts at the Trident Seafoods docks in Newport. For now, they buy more tuna and salmon than crab and pink shrimp. That could change as they add to their product line.
“We buy direct from fishermen, using our own fish tickets,” Baratoff said, noting they only use the trident dock to offload the catches. “The challenge is to buy fresh fish. Our focus is on quality, on having that fresh fish quality.”
From there, the fish goes to the Toledo processing facility, where they use state-of-the-art water-jet cutters and nitrogen freezing tunnels to create premium-grade, bite-size seafood pieces. The frozen product is shipped to a co-packer in Salem. Using fresh land-based ingredients gleaned from farmers, wild mushroom gatherers, vintners and other producers throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern California, and recipes created by a “flavor council” of renowned Pacific Northwest chefs, they combine ingredients into flexible pouches and cook them to “seal in flavors and keep them as fresh as the day they were cooked.” The sealed pouches have a shelf life of up to 18 months. From there, they go to the Fishpeople headquarters and warehouse in Portland for distribution.
Seafood consumers need to cook the pouches for just a few minutes in the microwave or boiling water to create “a fresh gourmet meal.”
Baratoff said Fishpeople products offer all the attributes consumers say they value in their seafood. He noted the marriage of convenience and gourmet – a key marketing component, making it possible for consumers to have “fresh fish” anytime, anywhere. Flavor and appearance, affordability, proven health factors, environmental benefits, and benefits to local fishermen are also essential. Berry said their company’s hallmark is “relentless transparency,” with tracking numbers on all products that allow customers to go online and get detailed information on “where it all came from.”
Fishpeople is registered as a B corporation in Oregon, which means they “consider people, planet and profit when making all business decisions,” said Baratoff. “It’s a different way of doing business.”
Berry said they consider themselves “purposeful but playful.” While they seriously believe in sustainable fishing practices and supporting local communities, they balance it with a sense of humor and fun, because “this is food or what we call eater-tainment.”
It all starts with the ocean and the commercial fishermen who ply the waves for a living.
Approved by the Oregon legislature in 2005, ConnectOregon is dedicated to non-highway projects, focusing on multimodal transportation connections. The Port of Toledo is ideally situated at an intersection of river, railroad and highway.
The boatyard project – one of 36 approved by the Oregon Transportation Commission from among 104 applicants – is another surge forward in the port’s resurrection of the boatyard it purchased for $1.5 million in December 2010. Former owner Fred Wahl shut down the operation in 2008 after nearly a decade on the sliver of land at Sturgeon Bend on the Yaquina River near Toledo. The port’s purchase set the stage for major improvements and offered commercial fishermen and marine science researchers a much-needed place to keep their vessels shipshape. The port’s do-it-yourself open yard provides access to a group of preferred and approved independent contractors.
“We are one of the few remaining repair facilities that not only allow, but welcome the do-it-yourself owner,” Shoemake said. “We encourage boat owners to be as involved in the maintenance of their boats as possible.”
Yaquina Boatyard currently offers a full range of services, including a 300-ton dry dock capable of handling vessels up to 100 feet long and 46 feet wide, and a 90-ton mobile lift able to accommodate vessels up to 21 feet wide and 24 feet high. For this project, however, size matters even more.
Shoemake said they’ll replace the aging, failing dry dock with a 300- to 440-ton mobile lift, new pier for the lift, and new wash-down pad. “Then we can lift anything that’s coming up the river,” he noted.
They will also expand hard moorage spaces and create a cargo transfer area by relocating the boatyard’s access road and utilities. It should also greatly enhance efficiency. Shoemake said the current dry dock set-up “is pretty cumbersome,” since they “can only do one boat at a time, which isn’t very efficient.” And sandblasting and painting over water, no matter how carefully and precisely it’s done, creates additional environmental concerns. Adding the new lift to “pull the boats out and put them in the yard” for servicing virtually eliminates those concerns.
The project stems from a build-out plan for the 20-acre property approved in 2013, with backing from city and county officials. Shoemake said the port used its investment in the property – now appraised at $4.2 million – to meet the port’s 24 percent match requirement for the grant.
Because the boatyard provides a vital link for commercial fishing and marine research vessels, the Newport, Oregon-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, commercial fishermen Mike Pettis (F/V Patriot, F/V Challenge and F/V Jake-B), Bob Eder and Michelle Longo Eder (F/V Timmy Boy), and Kurt Cochran (F/V New Life, F/V Marathon and F/V Islander), the Port of Newport, and several marine service businesses joined many others in backing the project with enthusiastic letters of support.
The Oregon Transportation Commission considers the port and its boatyard “essential” to maintaining Oregon’s economic competitiveness by keeping fishing and research vessels shipshape and seaworthy, and connections to markets intact and fully functional.
Boatyards are vital to a viable commercial fishing industry, which generates about 4,000 jobs and accounts for about 15 percent of earned income in Oregon’s central coast communities (Newport, Toledo, Depoe Bay), according to an economic analysis. The port’s business plan for the boatyard stated that more than half of the economic activity is generated by the distant water fleet, the remainder from the local/regional fleet. Ocean research conducted from Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and the nearby NOAA research homeport in Newport further enhances the local, regional and state economy. Port of Toledo commissioners took a chance and bought the Yaquina Boatyard to stave off potential ebbing of the local and regional economy.
So far, the gamble has paid off.
One new addition to the boatyard that has already paid big dividends is manager Leo Newberg, who came aboard 15 months ago. Shoemake said the boatyard overseer is “really on top of things,” and has proven a valuable asset to the growing operation.
To learn more about the new processing facility and its needs, go to http://www.fishpeopleseafood.com. Contact Berry at 503-342-2424, ext. 101 or email@example.com. Contact Baratoff at 503-342-2424, ext. 107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.