150 YEARS OF INNOVATION
Dungeness crab, Pink shrimp, Albacore tuna, Chinook salmon, groundfish, and whiting are vital to Oregon’s commercial fishing fleet and are dinner table staples – locally and the world over. The 150-year-long story told in this exhibit is about Oregon's emergence as a world leader in the sustainable seafood movement. It’s the story of fish, fishermen, fishery managers, scientists, researchers, and conservation groups – and how they met challenges and opportunities, including:
• environment and ocean changes
• technology and gear innovations
• regulatory changes
• international politics and globalization
• scientific advancement
• consumer preferences
A fisherman sets forth from his community to a relatively unknown place and returns home with something to share — in this case it is a bounty of wild, beautiful seafood. — Bob Eder, Newport fisherman
Milestones in Fisheries
Fishing boats at dock in Newport’s Yaquina Bay, circa 1956.
photo credit: Lincoln County Historical Society #1308
The Hudson’s Bay Company and early explorers trade with Native American tribes for salmon. Commercial salmon fishing begins at the mouth of the Columbia river.
Salmon fishing ramps up when improvements in canning make it easier to sell fish the world over. Fishermen come from the U.S. eastern seaboard and Europe to claim their fortune in Oregon’s waters.
The largest amount of fish that can be caught over a long period of time from a specific area, considering the current environmental conditions.
Overfishing is a harvest rate that is higher than the MSY for that stock.
When a stock is overfished, the population is too low, which jeopardizes the stock’s ability to produce the MSY.
A rebuilt stock was overfished previously and has increased in abundance to a target population that supports its MSY.
The advent of the gasoline boat engine allows fishermen to journey offshore as they are no longer restricted to bays and rivers for salmon and Dungeness crab. This allows access to new species, such as Albacore tuna, Pink shrimp, and groundfish.
The Sustainable Fisheries Act (1996) prohibits fisheries from exceeding catch targets based on the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield. It defines “overfishing” and “overfished” terms and mandates regular stock assessments of certain fish populations. See sidebar.
The abundance of groundfish resources off the coast draws international attention. In 1966 the Soviet trawl fleet first appears off the Oregon Coast. The fleet expands, boat size increases and new gear types develop. High levels of catch and damage to the ocean floor spark concern over sustainability and catch rights.
Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act focuses on promoting sustainable fisheries by establishing annual catch limits, advancing market-based strategies such as catch shares, and addressing illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing from countries that export seafood to the U.S.
Several landmark laws are passed, including the Fishery Conservation and Management Act (later named the Magnuson-Stevens Act) in 1976, which brings stronger regulation to U.S. fisheries and eliminates foreign fishing within 200 miles off the coast. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973) also become law.
The COVID-19 pandemic brings unprecedented challenges to the seafood industry, where 2/3 of the product is consumed in restaurants. Still, U.S. fishermen landed 8.4 billion pounds valued at $4.8 billion in 2020. While these numbers indicate a decrease compared to 2019, they show that U.S. fishermen faced the challenge of a global pandemic and still provided the nation with nutritious, sustainable seafood.
With international export markets still in turmoil, many are looking to domestic and local markets for the future of food security.
HOW DOES SEAFOOD
GET TO MY PLATE?
It can be as simple as buying directly from a fisherman at the docks or as complex as buying imported seafood at your supermarket. The steps from boat to fork are known as the “seafood supply chain” and there are many possible pathways. The process of tracking seafood all the way from boat to market is known as traceability. Short supply chains are preferred for quality and accountability. Long supply chains can include exporting, importing, and increased risk of consumer fraud.
A fisherman sells his catch to a first buyer (also known as a processor). Oregon has 108 licensed fish buyers. The five largest buyers purchase 77% of all Oregon seafood.
Seafood processors clean, cut, freeze, can, and smoke fish. They also cook and shuck shellfish. After processing, the product may go in frozen storage or be sold to a secondary fish dealer.
Commonly, the product will change hands several times before final distribution to restaurants and retail markets.
In the U.S., about 2⁄3 of all seafood is consumed in restaurants and about 1⁄3 is consumed at home.
1. able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed;
2. involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources;
3. able to last or continue for a long time.
Oregon only produces a small amount of the world’s marine catch – just 0.2%! While it’s a small number, Oregon’s fisheries are a special part of the global industry. Oregon has emerged as a world leader in the sustainable seafood movement and provides premium quality seafood products sought the world over.
The number of individuals of a particular species that live within a defined area.
A part of a fish population subject to a specific fishery. Usually the stock will have a particular migration pattern and specific spawning ground that may
differentiate it from other parts of the population. For salmon, this is also know as a run.
The combination of fish and fishermen in a region. Within the fishery, all fishermen are generally targeting the same species and use the same type of fishing gear in a defined geographic area.
Fish other than the primary target species that are caught incidental to the harvest of the primary species. Bycatch can be sold, eaten, released alive, or discarded.
Source: NOAA Fisheries Glossary
A rebuilt stock was overfished previously and has increaed in abundance to a target population that supports its maximum sustainable yield, or MSY.
photo credits: Petrale Sole, IfAME MBNMS MARE TNC; Pacific Whiting, Rick Starr/NOAA/CBNMS; Lingcod, Eva Founderburgh; Canary Rockfish, Adelita Vrana; Widow Rockfish, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries Service.
By law, all U.S. seafood must be caught according to fishery management plans to ensure sustainability. To evaluate the sustainability of fisheries, several indicators are used:
Does the fishing gear damage the sea floor or other marine habitats?
Are the fish populations high or low? Do they mature quickly and have lots of offspring?
Does the fishery catch only what it is trying to catch, or is there bycatch? Bycatch is fish other than the target species that is caught incidentally.
The modern seafood lover seeks high quality seafood and information about where it comes from. Several entities have emerged to help consumers select seafood from sustainable fisheries.
MARINE STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL sets a standard for fishing and fisheries. Those that wish to demonstrate they are well-managed and sustainable, can be assessed against that standard. Some national retailers have committed to sourcing MSC certified seafood products.
fishwatch helps consumers find information on the nation’s most valuable marine fish. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries is the leading science authority for managing the nation’s marine fish.
SEAFOOD WATCH is a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which publishes a popular guide for seafood consumers that categorizes options using a red, yellow, and green system, where green is the "Best Choice," yellow is a "Good Alternative," and red is an "Avoid."
Oregon Pink shrimp was the first shrimp fishery in the world certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable.
Oregon troll and gill net caught salmon is considered a “Good Alternative” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
HOW Oregon fitS into the
In 2019, fisheries generated $161 million in revenue from 1,570 fishing boats making a combined total of 23,100 deliveries to 110 wholesale fish buyers and processors.
Oregon is 4% of the U.S. Catch
8.4 billion lbs. (3.8 million metric tons) Value: $4.8 billion
United States 5% of World Catch
Wild capture fisheries have leveled off in the last 30 years. Farmed seafood production has increased at the rate of 8.5% annually.
The United States imports 70–85% of its seafood; it is estimated that more than half of this imported seafood is produced via foreign aquaculture. Driven by imports, our national seafood trade deficit has grown to $17 billion in 2020.
Source: NOAA Fisheries, 2020 Fisheries of the United States report
Caption (above): Crab pots stacked along Newport bayfront, circa 1970.
photo credit: Lincoln County Historical Society, #3505
From its beginnings in the early 1900’s, and for its first 50 years, crab lingered as a minor fishery while salmon and tuna dominated the market. By the 1970’s, as consumer desire for Dungeness crab grew, so did the number of crab fishermen. Between 1950 and 1980, the number of crab pots in the water increased 20-fold which led managers to cap the number of crab boats through a limited entry permit system, but the race for crab continued as the permitted boats increasingly fished with more pots. In response managers placed a pot limit on each boat, ensuring a more sustainable and equitable harvest
Caption (above): Jerry Biddinger, owner of the F/V Refuge, repairs an old crab pot. The crab pot has remained relatively unchanged, as its timeless design selectively captures mature, legal size male crab and allows females and undersized males to escape.
photo credit: Sharon Biddinger, Simply Design Studios
Today, Dungeness crab accounts for about a third of the value of all Oregon commercial landings annually, and it’s considered to be the economic backbone of the fleet. Boats of all sizes from all Oregon ports participate.
The 2022 crab season was the most lucrative in Oregon history. It started on time, catch was high, and prices peaked, which was a boon for commercial crabbers and their coastal communities. But savvy fishers must plan for an uncertain future, as they know that the catch and the market can always change. Indeed, in 2023 a “market correction” dropped average prices back down to previous years’ levels. For fishers, seasonal variability and market risk has always been part of the job.
Caption (below): Crab pots are stacked and ready to go at the Port of Newport, just before the season opener in 2016. Note the unique buoy color for each vessel’s stack. photo credit: Ken Gagne
TV viewers might believe Alaskan crab fishermen have the most dangerous job.
The Alaskan crab fishery has the reputation of being the deadliest, but the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery has almost 2.5 times more fatalities than the commercial fishing average. Oregon boats are typically smaller than Alaskan boats, cross hazardous river bars in rough winter conditions, and work day and night. For these reasons, the fishery is heavily regulated for safety. Fishermen attend safety training classes, and vessels are inspected by the Coast Guard for seaworthiness and safety gear, such as survival suits, life rafts, and state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment.
OREGON’S CRAB FLEET
BY THE NUMBERS
Multiple crab pots are set in rows known as “strings,” each on an individual line. Pots are retrieved using hydraulic “crab blocks” which is essentially a power driven winch.
An efficient crew can hoist and re-bait as many as 400 pots per day. Pots are predominantly set between 10 and 50 fathoms (60-300 feet). Crabs are stored live in holds on boats that are filled with re-circulating sea water and are delivered daily to fish processing plants and mobile live crab buyers.
Crab pots are fished on sandy or muddy habitat, which is fairly resilient to change.
Crab grow quickly, and reproduce abundantly. Each female can produce 2 million eggs each year.
Escape rings allow undersized and female crab to exit the pot, ensuring little bycatch.
Data derived from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Marine Stewardship Council, and NOAA Fishwatch.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife uses a simple management strategy known as the 3 S’s – Size, Sex & Season. This has served the resource well and ensures that the Dungeness fishery is truly sustainable.
Size Only mature male crab measuring at least 6¼ inches across the back of the shell are harvested. Undersized male crab are returned to the ocean.
Sex Female crab are released unharmed to return to the ocean floor.
Season The annual harvest begins after December 1st, when the crab are hard-shelled, full of meat, and in their prime. The season closes on August 14, allowing the crabs time to molt and their shells to harden again, undisturbed.
The Dungeness crab market is highly volatile, fluctuating from year to year.
80-90% of the annual catch comes in the first two months of the season. As harvest (supply) decreases, price (demand) increases. By late summer, the market is saturated, and the price decreases.
Dungeness crab dominates the West Coast crab harvest in total dollar value. It’s the primary crab harvested commercially in Oregon. Snow, tanner, and king crab are harvested in Alaska.
Data derived from The Research Group
Known as combo vessels, many boats participate in more than one fishery. However, crab is at the core of Oregon's fisheries. To examine the bio-economics of the crab fishery, this graphics shows the overlap of crab and other fisheries from 2014. Source: Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission
NOTE: Counts in this graphics are not additive, as vessels participating in three or more fisheries are not represented.
The crab fleet is highly diverse, including small dories, medium sized wood vessels, and large steel boats.
The F/V Sea Q, a typical dory based in Pacific City launches from the beach.
photo credit: Sandy Weedman
The F/V Patriot leaves port.
photo credit: Ken Gagne