ILWACO — Tuna landings are still trickling into local ports, capping what has been a calamitous season for commercial albacore fishermen across the Pacific Northwest. With only weeks remaining in the commercial season, some fishermen have already declared it one of the worst in decades.

“We don’t have any inventory in a time that we are normally at our highest level to carry us through the year,” said Tre-Fin Day Boat Seafood owner Mike Domeyer, adding that it was their worst overall tuna year since starting the business. As a result, Domeyer and the Tre-Fin crew have turned their focus to other fisheries, particularly groundfish.

“We continue to participate in the open-access black cod fishery locally with rod and reel, which hopefully replaces the huge void left from albacore,” Domeyer said.

‘Bad’ season

It’s simply been a ‘bad’ tuna season, according to Western Fishboat Owners Association Executive Director Wayne Heikkila, who monitors the tuna fishing season coastwide from California to Washington as part of the nonprofit group representing 400 albacore fishermen on the West Coast.

According to official figures from the Pacific Fisheries Information Network (PFIN), commercial landings are down significantly from 2020, the fourth consecutive year landings have fallen precipitously from the 20-year average in Washington and Oregon.

“Only about 3,000 tons landed, which is off about 50% from last year at this time — and 2020, 2019 and 2018 were off 30% of the prior 20-year average,” Heikkila said.

Several factors may have played a role in limiting success for fishermen this year.

“Effort was down this season as most fish were farther offshore. There are still some larger vessels 200 miles out catching some, so it’s hard to predict final numbers at this time until they unload and the rest wraps up in a month,” Heikkila said.

The recent drop in commercial tuna landings are reminiscent of a tough stretch the fishery had in the early 90s.

“It is not the poorest year, as 1991 yielded about 1,900 tons total, but was back to normal by 1995. It could be ocean conditions, as there was very cold water along the entire coast, which probably kept albacore farther out. And I have heard lack of forage fish. Bad weather was also the norm,” Heikkila said.

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