Oregon’s Commercial Fishing in 2017

by Erik Knoder

May 2, 2018

Oregon’s commercial fishing industry fell to about an average level in 2017. Harvests have been averaging $147 million (2017 dollars) per year since 2010 – after adjusting for inflation. Total landed value was $144 million in 2017. This was down from $152 million in 2016. The decrease was mainly due to the drop in the pink shrimp harvest, and the salmon harvest also fell. The pacific whiting (hake) harvest rose, and the crab and groundfish harvest also increased in 2017. Other fisheries combined for a modest decrease. Overall revenue dropped even though landed volume was up for the year.

Crab harvests in 2017 rose to 19 million pounds, the best harvest since 2013. A late start to the season and lower prices worked to offset some of the gain from higher populations, but the crab harvest was worth $58.7 million in 2017 versus $55.7 million the year before. Dungeness crab is usually Oregon’s most valuable fishery, and it was again in 2017.

Salmon landings fell sharply in 2017 to 1.2 million pounds. This was less than 40 percent of the average of recent years. Prices increased slightly to $4.65 per pound, but the total landed value was only $5.6 million, a drop of $2.8 million from the previous year.
The pink shrimp season was hit with a double whammy in 2017. The harvest was only 23 million pounds, a decrease of 12 million pounds from 2016. On top of that, shrimp prices fell by 16 cents per pound, so total value landed dropped 49 percent to $12.7 million. Oregon pink shrimp was certified as a sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council in 2007 and reassessed as sustainable in 2011.

The amount of whiting landed rose 78 percent in 2017 to 201 million pounds. Whiting accounted for about two-thirds by weight of all wild seafood landed in Oregon. Prices stayed at eight cents per pound so total landed value for this fishery increased to $16.4 million total. Much of Oregon’s whiting is made into surimi for use in making artificial crab meat.

The value of groundfish landed increased 11 percent in 2017 to $35.7 million. The amount landed actually increased 36 percent, but a drop in prices limited revenue.

The albacore tuna harvest fell for the third straight year. The harvest fell about 35 percent, but the price climbed to $2.28 per pound, so the total value dropped by only 14 percent in 2017 to $10.8 million. Albacore has become an important fishery in recent years, especially for smaller boats that depended on salmon.

Some smaller fisheries had notable changes. The anchovy harvest decreased from $1.2 million in 2016 to zero after ODFW limited harvests to protect the stock. The sardine fishery remained closed in 2017. Squid harvests also went to zero in 2017 from $1.1 million in 2016. This fishery is usually very small or nonexistent. The Pacific cod harvest dropped by $440,000 and razor clams were down by $350,000. Slime eels (hagfish) harvests rebounded by $273,000 in 2017. Much of the harvest is exported. Sea urchin harvests were up by $213,000 and gaper clam harvest rose by $95,000.


There were an estimated 1,330 commercial fishers in Oregon on an annual average basis in 2017. This was down from 1,438 in 2016, and was not too surprising given the decrease in harvests.

Estimating employment in fishing is more difficult than measuring the harvests. Legislation in 1999 allowed most fishermen to be exempt from unemployment insurance coverage – the primary source of employment data. The Oregon Employment Department now estimates the number of fishers based on a combination of survey data and the number of commercial fish landings made. This method was new for 2014 and resulted in a lower employment estimate than before.
The estimated number of fishers varied from a high of 1,784 in July to a low of 520 in November. Five coastal counties – Clatsop, Lincoln, Coos, Curry, and Tillamook – had 96 percent of the total employment, based on where landings occur. Perhaps even more surprising is that some interior counties, such as Jefferson and Washington, had any commercial fishing employment. These jobs are often based on crayfish harvests. The most important fisheries for employment are crab, salmon, and albacore tuna. Commercial fishers harvested more than 100 different species in 2017.

Although the number of fishing vessels has declined from historic highs, it has become more stable over the past decade. Fishing is slowly generating more revenue per boat, with plenty of fluctuations. There were 963 vessels with at least one landing in 2017, down from 1,108 in 2016. They averaged about $150,000 each in landed value in Oregon, up 9 percent from the previous year. Each vessel supported about 1.4 fishers on an annual average basis; many vessels have landings only part of the year.
In addition to direct employment, commercial fishing provides the resource for seafood processors. There were 32 seafood processors in Oregon that had employees in 2017, two more than in the previous year. The annual average direct employment for the entire industry was 1,172. Some processors also use temporary help firms to round out their staffing, but these employees are counted in the business services industry. The processing industry paid more than $40 million in wages in 2017, which clearly shows the benefit of adding value to raw natural products.

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