Oregon’s Commercial Fishing in 2018

by Erik Knoder

March 11, 2019

Oregon’s commercial fishing industry jumped to a better-than-average level in 2018. Harvests have been averaging $151 million (2018 dollars) per year since 2010 – after adjusting for inflation. Total landed value increased to $173 million in 2018. This was up from $148 million in 2017. The increase was mainly due to the larger pink shrimp and Dungeness crab harvests. The albacore tuna and groundfish harvest each dropped about 10 percent in 2018 – a loss of about $5 million in total. Salmon and Pacific whiting harvests were fairly stable. Other fisheries combined for a solid increase of about $3 million. Overall revenue jumped 17 percent even though landed volume was up only 4 percent for the year.

Crab harvests in 2018 rose to 23 million pounds, the best harvest since 2013. The season started late, but higher prices made for a record-setting year. The crab harvest was worth $74.5 million in 2018 versus $58.7 million the year before. Dungeness crab is usually Oregon’s most valuable fishery, and it was again, by far, in 2018.

Salmon landings fell again in 2018, to 989,672 pounds. This was the first time that the harvest was less than one million pounds since at least 1980. Prices increased to $5.84 per pound, and the total landed value rose 3 percent to $5.7 million.

The pink shrimp harvest was 36 million pounds in 2018, an increase of 56 percent from 2017, but still a little below average. Shrimp prices jumped to $0.75 per pound, so total value landed rose 112 percent to nearly $27 million, which was slightly above the average of recent years. 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 fell 8 percent in 2018 to 186 million pounds. Whiting accounted for about 60 percent by weight of all wild seafood landed in Oregon. The price increased a penny per pound so total landed value for this fishery was essentially unchanged in 2018. Much of Oregon’s whiting is made into surimi for use in making artificial crab meat.

The value of groundfish landed decreased 11 percent in 2018 to $31.6 million. The amount landed actually increased 6 percent, but a drop in prices limited revenue.

The albacore tuna harvest rose for the first time in four years. The harvest was up about 22 percent, but the price dropped to $1.67 per pound, so the total value landed was down 10 percent in 2018 to $9.7 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 Pacific cod harvest decreased from nearly one-half million dollars in 2016 to $8,500 in 2018. The harvests of Eulachon smelt nearly ceased; it fell 94 percent in 2018. The species was listed as threatened in 2010, and has made some recovery. Squid harvests went from zero in 2017 to $3 million in 2018. This fishery is usually very small or very large. Clam harvests were up nearly $275,000 with most species showing gains. Sea urchin harvests were up almost 90 percent to $686,000.

Employment

An estimated 1,310 commercial fishers worked in Oregon on an annual average basis in 2018. This was down from 1,330 in 2017, a little surprising given the increase 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 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 1,729 in July to a low of 386 in December. Five coastal counties – Clatsop, Lincoln, Coos, Curry and Tillamook – had 99 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, albacore tuna, and pink shrimp. Commercial fishers harvested more than 100 different species in 2018.

Revenue

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 976 vessels with at least one landing in 2018, up from 963 in 2017. They averaged about $177,000 each in landed value in Oregon, up 9 percent from the previous year. Each vessel supported about 1.3 workers 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 (the most recent full year of data), 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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