Sponsored by Oregon Business

Salmon season brings hope to Oregon’s southern fleet

| Print |  Email
Tuesday, May 01, 2007

TrawlerDock.jpgBROOKINGS — Mike Blank, harbormaster at the Port of Brookings Harbor, sums it up this way: “We finally got some relief.”

After a 2006 salmon fishing season that was a financial disaster for fishermen along the Northern California and Central Oregon Coast (on the heels of a severely restricted season in ’05), the 2007 season promises to be closer to business as usual — at least for trollers south of Astoria.

A rebound in the population of Klamath River Chinook salmon prompted the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to declare in April a near-normal season (with some restrictions in September) for salmon fishermen along most of the Oregon coast, while a decline in the number of salmon in the Columbia River is calling for the most constraint on quotas for northern Oregon and Washington fishermen since 1998.

“They’re just now getting what we’ve had for years,” says Blank.

Blank says there are between 30 and 40 salmon trollers at the port, but estimates only about 25 are active. Many  have dropped out in recent years, knuckling under to the financial pressures of maintaining a boat but being unable to catch and sell fish to pay for it.

Fishermen were thrilled to have the opportunity to fish this year. Opening day saw the boats of the southern Oregon fleet braving lumpy, spring-storm conditions on the hunt for Chinook salmon. While the salmon season really gets cooking in June and beyond, early catches were fetching the highest prices from processors — about $5 per pound in most cases — that were eager to shore up their depleted wild salmon inventory.

“Demand is at all-time highs for wild salmon,” says Dalton Hobbs, assistant director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “People have gotten the memo that wild fish is vastly superior to farmed fish.”

The increased appetite has pushed up the price fishermen get for their salmon, which had been as low as $1.50 per pound in 2002. Consumers these days pay in the neighborhood of $10 a pound, sometimes more, for wild salmon. Hobbs calls the Pacific salmon fleet one of the country’s few remaining artisanal fisheries. “A small to mid-sized boat can harvest as much as a big boat. It lends itself to a single owner-operator type of operation.”

But the small operators in the salmon fishing industry have been pushed to the brink by the recent restrictions. When the 2006 season was officially declared a fisheries failure, disaster relief funding came through from the state — though the checks, handed out last August, disappointed many fishermen. And federal relief funds are tied up in the emergency supplemental package that includes a timeline for Iraq and a veto promise from President Bush.

Everyone on the coast knows somebody who has called it quits. Martin Callery, spokesman for the Port of Coos Bay, says the commercial salmon fishing fleet operating out of Charleston had numbered just over 100 boats in recent years but he estimated it may be as low as one-half to one-third of that population that are still active today. He can’t say for sure, though, in part because the Charleston harbormaster, Don Yost, an 18-year veteran of the post, resigned in February rather than sign letters notifying cash-strapped fishermen that their boats were going to be impounded.

Jeff Reeves, a Charleston-based fisherman and member of the Oregon Salmon Commission, described the first days of the season along the Charleston docks as a “frenzy.”

“People didn’t want to gamble and spend money to be ready to fish when last year they had been shut down,” Reeves said, talking via cell phone while he readied his own boat to fish.

Reeves added crabbing as a new line of work a few years back to make up for repeated shortfalls in his salmon business. A new report by the Corvallis-based Research Group shows  the income from Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery — $98.3 million in 2006 compared to $5.4 million in 1973 —  has switched places with that of its salmon fishery — $7.6 million in 2006 compared to $86.7 million in 1973.

Other fishermen have diversified into retail, finding ways to reach consumers directly from their boat or through other channels. Scott Boley, a Gold Beach-based salmon fisherman, opened a shop there called Fisherman Direct Seafood 10 years ago. “I’m vertically integrated,” says Boley, “which is a fancy way of saying I work all the time.”

Last year Boley had to truck in salmon from the northern reaches of the coast and rely on frozen fish to fill out the inventory at his store. This year, he’s hoping for a supply from his own boat and those of his neighbors. “At least this year we have the opportunity,” he says. “What we don’t know yet is the abundance.”

— Christina Williams

Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


More Articles

Storyteller in Chief: Power Player

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.


Child care challenge

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
0927OHSUhealthystarts-thumbBY KIM MOORE AND LINDA BAKER

Child care in Oregon is expensive and hard to find. We delved into the numbers and talked to a few executives and managers about day care costs, accessibility and work-life balance.


Is there life beyond Reed?

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A storied institution climbs down from the ivory tower.


Car be gone

Linda Baker
Thursday, August 06, 2015
070615car2goblogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

Car and ride sharing services have taken urban areas by storm. Low-income and suburban communities are left at the curb.


Light Reading

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ask any college student: Textbook prices have skyrocketed out of control. Online education startup Lumen Learning aims to bring them down to earth.


Bendafornia: What’s driving the Northern California migration?

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, August 05, 2015
bendiforniathumbBY KEN MAES

A huge migration from Northern California has contributed to average 16% growth per year since 1990.


Big Trouble in China?

Guest Blog
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
0818-wellmanthumbBY JASON NORRIS | CFA

Earlier this month, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) announced they were going to devalue their currency, the Renminbi. While the amount of the targeted change was to be roughly 2 percent, investors read a lot more into the move. The Renminbi had been gradually appreciating against the U.S. dollar (see chart) as to attempt to alleviate concerns of being labeled a currency manipulator.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02