Trollers to battle fuel costs, weather
Salmon trolling gear aboard the F/V
Frances, left, is ready for use Tuesday
evening in Charleston while other boats,
mostly salmon trollers, are docked at the
inner harbor in the background. Fishermen
have been getting ice and fuel and fixing
their boats in preparation for the season
opening again on Thursday. World Photo by
CHARLESTON -- As the buzz
of activity on the boats waned in the evening,
local salmon trollers talked about the upcoming
season that opens Thursday. Will there be fish
around? With only today left to get ice, fuel up
and get the boats in order, are they ready?
"We were pretty much ready when we got shut down,"
fisherman Jack Kirk, who runs the Dragonet, said
Like many salmon fishermen in southern Oregon and
northern California, Kirk is bitter about the
season closing during the prime fishing months of
June, July and August. State and federal officials
chose to eliminate ocean trolling during summer to
protect returning Klamath River fish. The Klamath
River fall Chinook are the fish on which
Charleston trollers primarily depend, even though
fish from most West Coast rivers mix in the
Pacific during their ocean journeys.
Many salmon fishermen would have fished albacore
this summer but they were dealt a weird and wacky
weather pattern that kept the migrating tuna far
out to sea and far out of range. Escalating fuel
prices only made matters worse.
But the same combination of weather and economics
could force similar uncertainty in the remaining
The Chinook could be swimming in the same deeper
waters as the tuna.
"I've heard stories," Hallmark Fisheries
production manager Scott Adams said, "of (salmon)
being caught further offshore than they normally
would (be) -- on tuna jigs."
He chalked it up to another indication of a
strange year in the seafood business, but at the
same time he was considerably cautious about what
to expect. High fuel prices are going to make it
tougher for both fishermen and buyers to make a
profit, especially if fishermen have to spend more
time searching for and less time catching their
bounty. Markets also are of concern.
Consumers still are hooked on wild salmon, but
Kirk believes the industry has lost a bit of the
market niche during the summer to the cheaper
farmed fish. Retailers often sell farmed Atlantic
salmon to complement the wild fish offerings or as
the primary product wild king salmon wanes. Trying
to get those consumers back may be a tough sell if
the price is too high.
Some retailers are anxious to get as much salmon
as they can.
Customers have been asking for king salmon all
summer, said George Paynter, owner of Seahawk
Seafood in Charleston.
"We don't have any in our freezer for winter,"
Adams said he's called several buyers and other
seafood traders in major cities on the West Coast,
trying to get a handle on what buyers may want.
But he's found few answers.
Already, there is a good supply of wild Chinook
available. Columbia River gillnetters kept some of
the wild markets open, but the volumes coming out
of the river could have an influence on the price
local fishermen and processors get for
"There's only so much of a market," Adams said.
"If you buy a lot of fish and the market drops, it
Another challenge to the fleet also could rest
with Nature: the bulk of the fish already may be
in the rivers or -- worse -- a dose of rain may
trigger homing instincts for Chinook schooled near
the river mouths and they could enter the rivers
en masse. Kirk is hoping the runs are later in the
year, giving fishermen a chance to recoup some of
the income lost over the summer.
Bernie Michalke, general manager at Oregon Brand
Seafood in Charleston, also is hoping for late
"I really don't know what to expect. We have some
fishermen going out and giving it a try," Michalke
Or, nature could toy with the fishermen directly.
"This late in the year, the weather tends to slap
us in the face," Kirk said, noting trollers will
be lucky to get in even 15 days of good fishing,
even though the season is open for 23 days in
September and again in October.
It's during those two months that the weather is
unsettled, shifting from its summer to winter
pattern. It could catch trollers off-guard.
"We have no choice. We have to fish the weather,"
Kirk said. "We have a lot riding on the next
couple of weeks."