Oregon’s Commercial Fishing in 2019

by Erik Knoder

March 5, 2020

Oregon’s commercial fishing industry revenues fell about 9 percent in 2019 from the previous year, but still were above the average level of the past 10 years. Harvests have been averaging about $156 million (2019 dollars) per year since 2010 – after adjusting for inflation. Total landed value decreased to $160 million in 2019. This was down from $176 million in 2018. The decrease was mainly due to the smaller pink shrimp and Dungeness crab harvests. The revenue from groundfish also dropped 11 percent in 2019 – a loss of $3.5 million in total. Revenue from salmon fell 27 percent due to lower prices. The Pacific whiting fishery was the big winner in 2019; revenue was up 32 percent from 2018 as both harvests and prices increased. Albacore tune harvests and values rose about 12 percent. Other fisheries combined for a small decrease. Overall the revenue from fishing dropped by $16 million in 2019 even as the volume of harvests increased by 22 million pounds.

Crab harvests in 2019 fell 18 percent to 19 million pounds, still one of the better harvests of the past 10 years. There was a late start to the season, but higher prices worked to make up for lower harvest. The crab harvest was worth nearly $68 million in 2019, about 9 percent less than the year before. Dungeness crab is usually Oregon’s most valuable fishery, and it was again by far in 2019.
Salmon landings rose 2 percent in 2019, to about one million pounds. This was enough to make 2019 the second-worst harvest since 1980 after last year’s record low. Adding insult to injury, prices fell over a dollar a pound to $4.17 per pound, and the total landed value dropped 27 percent to $4.2 million, making 2019 the worst commercial salmon season since 2009.

The pink shrimp harvest was 27 million pounds in 2019, a decrease of 25 percent from 2018, and well under the average of recent years. Shrimp prices changed only slightly at 74 cents per pound, and total value landed fell 26 percent to $20 million, which was nearly $4 million less than 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 jumped 20 percent in 2019 to 222 million pounds. Whiting accounted for about two-thirds by weight of all wild seafood landed in Oregon. The price increased a penny per pound so total landed value for this fishery climbed 32 percent in 2019. 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 2019 to $28 million. This was a similar drop to the one the previous year. The amount landed decreased 5 percent, and the average price dropped four cents per pound. The volume harvested still remained higher than the average of recent years.

The albacore tuna harvest rose for the second year in a row. The harvest was up about 13 percent, but the price dropped two cents to $1.65 per pound, so the total value landed increased only 12 percent in 2019 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 slime eel harvest, which is mainly exported, jumped 12 percent in 2019. The herring harvest essentially vanished in 2019 from about $31,000 two years ago. On the other hand, the jack maceral harvest increased from less than one-thousand dollars to more than $31,000. Crayfish harvests jumped nearly 40 percent in 2019 to $400,000. Clams harvests were mixed: butter and gaper clam harvests were down 30 percent but razor clam harvests grew 60 percent. Market squid harvests were down about 7 percent at $2.8 million, but remained much higher than earlier years. This may herald the establishment of a new important fishery for Oregon.

Employment

There were an estimated 1,253 commercial fishers in Oregon on an annual average basis in 2019. This was down from 1,308 in 2018 and from 1,438 as recently as 2016. The sharp decline in salmon harvests over the past five years has probably been one reason for the drop in employment.
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 1,607 in August to a low of 548 in November. Five coastal counties – Clatsop, Lincoln, Coos, Curry, and Tillamook – had 95 percent of the total employment, based on where landings occur. Perhaps even more surprising is that some interior counties, such as Jefferson and Yamhill, had any commercial fishing employment. These jobs are sometimes 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 2019.

Revenue

Although the number of fishing vessels has declined from historic highs, it has become more stable over the past decade. Fishing began generating more revenue per boat after the turn of the century, albeit with plenty of fluctuations. There were 960 vessels with at least one landing in 2019, down from 976 in 2018. They averaged about $167,000 each in landed value in Oregon, down 7 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 33 seafood processors in Oregon that had employees in 2018 (the most recent full year of data), one more than in the previous year. The annual average direct employment for the entire industry was 1,245. 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 $46 million in wages in 2018, which clearly shows the benefit of adding value to raw natural products.


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