Commercial Fishing Numbers Down For 2015

The trawler Ms. Julie (photo by Susan Chambers)

By Erik Knoder Oregon Employment Department:

Oregon’s commercial fishing industry slumped to below average in 2015. Harvests have been averaging $144 million per year since 2010 after adjusting for inflation. Total landed value was about $115 million in 2015. This was down from $159 million in 2014. The decrease was mainly due to the Dungeness crab harvest falling well below normal, but the whiting harvest was also low, and the cyclical sardine harvest nearly vanished. A few other fisheries had increases that helped to offset the loss, but overall revenue and landed volume were down for the year.Crab harvests in 2015 fell to about 2.3 million pounds, the worst harvest in years. Higher prices helped to cushion the blow, but the crab harvest was worth only about $12 million in 2015 versus $48 million the year before. Dungeness crab is usually Oregon’s most valuable fishery.Salmon landings also fell in 2015 to 3.1 million pounds, but this was near the average of recent years. Prices remained fairly high at $3.76 per pound, and the total landed value was $11.8 million – a drop of nearly $9 million from the previous year.

The pink shrimp harvest was 53.4 million pounds, an increase of 3 percent from 2014. It was the highest harvest in years. Shrimp prices went up 20 cents per pound as well so total value landed hit $40.3 million – a new record. 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 sharply in 2015 to 94.9 million pounds. Whiting accounted for nearly half of all wild seafood landed in Oregon. Prices dipped to eight cents per pound so total landed value for this fishery fell by more than half to $7.1 million total.

The value of groundfish landed increased 32 percent in 2015 to $28.8 million. The amount landed actually increased only 16 percent, but a rise in prices also helped boost revenue.

The albacore tuna harvest fell for the second year. The value fell by 16 percent in 2015 to $9.2 million. The harvest fell about 14 percent and the price inched down to $1.22 per pound. Albacore has become an important fishery in recent years, especially for smaller boats that depended on salmon.

The directed Pacific sardine season was canceled for 2015 due to concerns about the low population. Sardines could be harvested only as live bait or as incidental catch. Sardine landings fell 73 percent in 2015 to 4.7 million pounds. The harvest was 94 million pounds in 2012. The price also slid and the landed value in 2015 fell to less than $1 million.

Some smaller fisheries had notable changes. The anchovy harvest increased from zero to $70,000. The mackerel harvest, which fluctuates greatly, fell 97 percent. The gaper clam harvest more than doubled, to nearly $200,000. It was the second year of rapid increase.

Employment

The annual average number of jobs in commercial fishing was estimated to be 1,318 in 2015. This was down from 1,491 jobs in 2014, and not too surprising given the fall 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 fishing jobs based on survey data and the number commercial fish landings made. This method was new for 2014 and resulted in a lower employment estimate than in recent years.

The estimated number of jobs varied from a high of 1,850 in August to a low of 217 in December. The low employment in December was related to the delayed opening of the Dungeness crab season. The five coastal counties – Clatsop, Lincoln, Coos, Curry, and Tillamook – had 94 percent of the total jobs in commercial fishing, based on where landings occur. Perhaps even more surprising is that some interior counties, such as Jefferson and Yamhill, had commercial fishing jobs. Those jobs are often based on crayfish harvests. The most important fisheries for employment are crab, salmon, and albacore tuna. There are about 70 species that were commercially harvested in 2015.

Revenue

Although the number of fishing vessels has declined from historic highs, it has stabilized for the past few years. Fishing is slowly generating more revenue per boat although with plenty of fluctuations. There were 1,165 vessels with at least one landing in 2015, down from 1,229 in 2014. They averaged about $99,000 each in landed value in Oregon, down 24 percent from the previous year. Each vessel supported about 1.1 jobs 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 28 seafood processors in Oregon that had employees in 2015, five more than the previous year. The annual average direct employment for the entire industry was 1,113. 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 $33 million in wages in 2015, which clearly shows the benefit of adding value to raw natural products.