short notice, trollers react to likely salmon
WINCHESTER BAY - Salmon troller
Alvin Gorgita was moving gear and tools around on
his fishing boat, the Ladee G, on Thursday.
“I'm getting ready for salmon season,” Gorgita
said. “I'm fixing all the stuff we broke last
The rough weather last year prevented many salmon
trollers from fishing early in the season - “The
wind started blowin',” Gorgita said - and federal
regulations prevented them from fishing during
most of the summer.
Word that this year's season
may be cut shorter than last year surprised him.
Gorgita, a gregarious Portuguese man decked out in
a red-and-black plaid workshirt and baseball cap,
said he's fished salmon all his life. He bought
the Ladee G a couple years ago and he's already
put more than $5,000 into the boat to get it ready
“I don't know what we're going to do,” he said.
Gorgita's not alone. Fishermen are scrambling amid
uncertainty: Some are trying to decide whether to
risk using credit cards to get last-minute fixes
done to their vessels; others are putting their
plans on hold for a week or more until state and
federal fishery managers determine how a season
could be structured this year.
Charleston fisherman Jeff Reeves fishes the Gloria
II, and though he's still got crab pots in the
ocean, he's struggling with financial decisions.
“For any of us to get rolling, it costs quite a
bit,” Reeves said.
Weather and use take tolls on
boats. Putting off maintenance is risky, but many
salmon trollers have done just that.
And more likely will.
“There won't be any magic pill for a season,”
The cascade effect of one unexpected and
unfavorable season doesn't affect just the boats
and the fishermen; it also could put pressure on
other fisheries as trollers and sport fishermen
seek refuge somewhere else.
“But there's nothing to expand into,” West Coast
Seafood Processors Executive Director Rod Moore
When the king crab fisheries in Alaska collapsed
in the 1980s, many fishermen put in stern ramps to
haul trawl nets or added longline fishing
equipment so they could target groundfish in the
Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, a fishery
considered underutilized at the time.
In contrast, most West Coast fisheries are
stretched nearly to their limits. Switching to a
new fishery has advantages but each option also
has its own set of problems.
Commercial trollers could rig their boats to fish
for blackcod, one of the groundfish species. A
limited amount of blackcod is available to
fishermen who don't possess groundfish permits.
Granted, the limit on how much they can catch is
lower than those for fishermen who hold permits,
but it could allow them the chance to make around
$5,000 every two months.
The problem? Added effort could mean they catch
all the fish alloted to the open access fishery
too quickly. Instead of a few boats being able to
fish blackcod through December, for example, twice
the number of open-access vessels might be able to
fish only until September.
Many trollers already opt to head farther on the
ocean to fish for albacore tuna, and many more
salmon fishermen and charter boat operators will
try their luck on albacore this year, too.
Last year, many trollers who gambled on tuna
“They were so far out,” Gorgita said of the fish
that stayed miles offshore.
Many of the smaller boats don't have the
refrigeration to handle more than a day trip and
when the fish are miles away, risking a trip may
not be worth the price of a few gallons of fuel,
especially during rough summer weather. Commercial
fishing effort in albacore also is about at its
Charter boats have fewer options still.
Many sport companies offer tuna trips but the
weather is a hindrance. Fishing for nearshore
rockfish would be a better option, at least when
it comes to proximity to shore, weather and when
the fish bite; but again, the problem comes down
to the amount of effort: Rockfish stocks can
handle only so much pressure.
It wasn't even two years ago that the Oregon sport
rockfish season ended earlier than expected after
recreational fishermen caught all of the available
black rockfish, lingcod and cabezon allotment.
More pressure in the fishery could prompt a déja
vu feeling for many charter companies this year -
especially since a recent yelloweye rockfish
assessment shows that particular species in worse
Strike Zone Charters owner Scott Howard in
Winchester Bay remembered what it was like in the
early 1990s when salmon season was cut short -
Winchester Bay was deserted, he said. And now,
because of federal regulations, Winchester Bay
charter operations can't fish for rockfish.
“It'll kill us again,” he said.
Howard, Gorgita and other fishermen and processors
have counted on the March 15 opening for the past
few years - and with the opening target date less
than a month away and the question of being able
to fish not answered yet, the industry is in a
For processors, the question of timing for selling
frozen inventory is acute.
“I got fish in my freezer,” Adams said. “Do I get
rid of it or do I keep it because there might not
be any around later?”
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the
federal council charged with structuring the
fishing season, will meet in Seattle March 5-10 -
and council members likely won't decide until that
Friday what the season will look like and whether
to allow a March 15 opening five days later.
The notice is too short for businesses.
“It makes it pretty hard to presell any fish or
get any (supermarket) ads,” Adams said.
Likewise, supply stores find it difficult to
determine orders months in advance when decisions
about the season are made within weeks or days of
the expected opening.
Englund Marine Supply Owner Jon Englund said he
relies on his years of experience in the business.
“We know that we're on a little downswing,”
Englund said Wednesday, “and you try to guess the
best that you can.”
Purchase planning often begins at the end of the
prior salmon season, particularly for commercial
gear, and orders often are placed in November.
“It's more specialized,” Englund said.
On the recreational side, the planning can be a
little shorter but no less frustrating.
“There is no criteria to have a definite answer,
because ... here were are, a few weeks away from
the season and not knowing,” Englund said.
Of utmost concern to both fishermen and processors
is the retail customer.
The salmon industry, not only in Oregon, but along
the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska as
well, has fought for space in the marketplace
against cheaper fish - farmed fish; primarily, the
Atlantic salmon that is grown in net pens and
imported. Marketing efforts touting the benefits
of wild fish have paid off: Consumers have been
willing to pay more for wild-caught fish.
“In essence, it will destroy everything we've done
in the last five years,” Adams said.
Portside Chef Alex Laygui said Wednesday that he'd
just purchased six cases of wild salmon. He'd
prefer to have the wild Chinook, but when it comes
down to providing the dishes on the seafood
restaurant's menu, he'll buy the fish from
wherever he can, be it from Alaska or imported
Atlantic salmon, if he absolutely has to.
The price on Atlantic salmon remains relatively
steady, he said, and “it's available all year
It's exactly that kind of stability and price
that, in years past, pushed wild salmon out of the
But Laygui said he's determined to buy wild fish
if he can. His recent salmon purchase will last
him through March.
“I'm crossing my fingers and hope (the season)
opens the second week of March or so,” Laygui