By Terry Dillman
Oregon’s commercial fishing industry is alive and well.
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 temperamental.
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 seafood.
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 waterfronts.
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 fishermen.
“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 fisheries.”
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 times.
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.
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 Coast.”
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 mix.
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.
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 million.
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).