Oregon’s Commercial Fishing in 2020

by Erik Knoder

March 4, 2021

Oregon’s commercial fishing industry revenues fell about 6% in 2020 from the previous year, and they were a little below the average level of the past 10 years. Harvests averaged about $158 million (2020 dollars) per year from 2010 through 2019. Total landed value decreased to $152 million in 2020. This was down from $163 million in 2019. The decrease was mainly due to the smaller groundfish (often rockfish) and whiting harvests. The revenue from groundfish dropped 34% in 2020 – a drop of $9.7 million in total. Revenue from whiting fell 30% – a loss of $6.5 million. The Dungeness crab was the main winner in 2020; revenue was up 7% from 2019 as both harvests and prices increased. Oregon pink shrimp harvests rose 61%, and its total revenue rose by $2.6 million even though the price per pound dropped. Overall the revenue from fishing dropped by $11 million in 2020 even as the volume of harvests increased by 10 million pounds.

Individual Fisheries

Crab harvests in 2020 rose 4% to 19.9 million pounds, one of the best harvests of the past 10 years. There was a late start to the season, but higher prices helped offset that. The crab harvest was worth nearly $73 million in 2020, about 7% more than the year before. Dungeness crab is usually Oregon’s most valuable fishery, and it was again by far in 2020.
Salmon landings rose 55% in 2020, to about 1.5 million pounds. This was more than the past few years but still well below the average since 2010. Adding insult to injury, the price fell nearly a dollar to $3.28 per pound. The total landed value rose 22% to $5.1 million, but 2020 was still the second-worst commercial salmon season since 2009.

The pink shrimp harvest was 43 million pounds in 2020, an increase of 61% from 2019, and more than the average of recent years. Unfortunately, shrimp prices fell from 74 cents to 52 cents per pound in 2020. The total value landed managed to increase 13% to $22.6 million. This was about 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 dipped by 1% in 2020 to 220 million pounds. Whiting accounted for about two-thirds by weight of all wild seafood landed in Oregon, but it has a low value. The price decreased by three cents to seven cents per pound in 2020. The total landed value for this fishery dropped 30% in 2020 to $15.2 million. Much of Oregon’s whiting is made into surimi for use in making artificial crab meat.

The value of groundfish landed decreased 34% in 2020 to $18.5 million. The landed value has dropped for the last three years. The amount landed decreased by 15%, and the average price dropped thirteen cents per pound. The price per pound has been dropping since 2016.

The albacore tuna harvest fell 33%, and the price dropped five cents to $1.60 per pound. Accordingly, the total value landed fell by 35% in 2020 to $7 million. This was the lowest level since 2003. 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, dropped 28% in 2020 to about $1.2 million. The steelhead harvest rose 175% to about $75,000 – its highest level since at least 2003. Crayfish harvests dipped by 6% in 2020 to $376,000, but remained well above the average of recent years. Clam harvests were mixed: gaper clam harvests were down 37%, but razor and butter clam harvests grew 111% and 64%, respectively. In total, the clam harvest rose 12% to $1 million. The market squid harvest shot up 108% to $6 million, the highest it’s been since at least 2003. This may herald the establishment of a new important fishery for Oregon since it is now more valuable than the salmon fishery.

Employment

There were an estimated 1,200 commercial fishers in Oregon on an annual average basis in 2020. This was down from 1,438 in 2019. The business restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic are the likely cause for the drop in employment. Several seafood processors were strongly impacted by restrictions and closures.
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 in Oregon. This method was new for 2014 and resulted in a lower employment estimate than before. Oregon vessels or crews making landings outside of Oregon are not included in these estimates of employment in Oregon.

The estimated number of fishers varied from a high of 1,520 in March to a low of 367 in December. Fishing employment usually peaks in the summer but COVID-19 restrictions led to a subdued summer season. Five coastal counties – Clatsop, Lincoln, Coos, Curry, and Tillamook – had 96% of the total employment, based on where landings occur. Perhaps even more surprising is that non-coastal Jefferson County had any commercial fishing employment. These jobs are sometimes based on crayfish harvests.
The most important fisheries for employment are crab, pink shrimp, and salmon. The estimates of employment by species represent the minimum number of people in that fishery. Landings are counted by only the most valuable species landed that trip. Commercial fishers harvested more than 100 different species in 2020.

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 984 vessels with at least one landing in 2020, up from 960 in 2019. They averaged about $154,000 each in landed value in Oregon, down 9% from the previous year. Each vessel supported about 1.2 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. Preliminary records show that there were 32 seafood processors in Oregon that had employees in 2020, four fewer than in the previous year. The annual average direct employment for the entire processing industry was 1,189. This was down from 1,338 employees in 2019. 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 $49 million in wages in 2020, which clearly shows the benefit of adding value to raw natural products.

 


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