Making a Go of It
A commercial salmon troller out of Newport since 1975, Mark Newell remembers a time when all of the state’s fisheries were wide open — no permits required. He also remembers what it was like 15 or 20 years ago, when more than 1,000 commercial fishing boats plied the waters off the Oregon Coast for Pacific salmon. Nowadays, even though there are licenses for more than 1,000 boats, fewer than half are actively in use.
“The fleet has shrunk because we’ve had so many bad years,” says Newell, who’s also a wholesale buyer and processor. “A lot of guys have moved on.”
The declining salmon numbers have pushed many Oregon fishermen like Newell to diversify into multiple states and into some of Oregon’s larger fisheries, such as pink shrimp, Dungeness crab and albacore. In Newport, commercial fishermen reported landing about 1.3 million pounds of Chinook in 2004; the number plummeted to 3,300 pounds during the disastrous 2008 season and was back up to about 320,000 pounds last year.
Newell, who is also a member of the Oregon Salmon Commission, says that, like the increased number of salmon returning to the Columbia this year, the fish numbers have been strong along the coast as well, so the ocean fishing this year has improved. He’s been at this long enough to know, however, that a good year this year doesn’t mean it’ll be that way in 2014 too.
“They are the best they’ve been in five years,” he says, “but you never know what the run will be like next year.”