ILWACO — Washington state’s commercial fishing vessels landed nearly 21 percent more pounds in 2017 than in 2016 but sold their catch for about 2 percent less, according to the definitive annual federal report on U.S. fisheries released last week.

Washington state’s total commercial catch in 2017 was 666 million pounds valued at just under $314 million, compared to landings of 552 million pounds in 2016 sold for $321 million, according to “Fisheries of the United States 2016,” published last week by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The state’s fisheries have rebounded from nutrition-poor ocean conditions after the “Blob” disrupted the northeast Pacific between 2013 and 2015. Washington’s total commercial catch in 2015 was only 363 million pounds valued at $274 million.

Washington’s 2017 landings set a new all-time record, with 2016 in second place.

Landings in Ilwaco and Chinook climbed to about 16 million pounds in 2017, compared to 13 million pounds in 2016 and 15 million in 2015. In dollar terms, Ilwaco-Chinook landings — bolstered by high-value Dungeness crab — remained stable at $22 million in 2017 and 2016, up from $15 million in 2015. The combined south Pacific County ports ranked 50th among the nation’s top-50 seafood producers in dollars and 45th in poundage in 2017.

Across the Columbia River, Astoria was 10th on the top-50 list for poundage but 29th for value. Landings increased to 151 million pounds in 2017, up from 94 million in 2016 — while value slid to $40 million in 2017 from $42 million in 2016.

In Washington, Westport remains the most successful fishing port, with 2017 landings of 150 million pounds valued at $64 million, compared to 108 million pounds and $59 million in 2016.

Dungeness crab

Dungeness crab landings were 61.3 million pounds valued at almost $212.7 million — a decrease of 2.9 million pounds (more than 4 percent) and $10 million (more than 4 percent) compared with 2016. However, both 2017 and 2016 were an improvement over 2015, when coast-wide landings were 23.9 million pounds valued at $112 million.

Washington landings of over 27.3 million pounds (up 43 percent from 2016 and up 82 percent from 2015) led all states with almost 45 percent of the total landings. Oregon’s 2017 landings were 19 million pounds (up nearly 21 percent over 2016) or 31 percent of the total landings. Oregon landings have soared compared to 2015, when the total was only 2.3 million pounds.

The average coast-wide ex-vessel price per pound was $3.47 in 2017, unchanged from 2016 but down from $4.68 in 2015.

Oysters

Oysters are among Pacific County’s most important economic sectors; the county accounts for most oyster production on the U.S. Pacific Coast.

U.S. oyster landings yielded 31.8 million pounds valued at more than $236.4 million — a decrease of nearly 1.5 million pounds (4 percent) but an increase of over $19.2 million (9 percent) compared to 2016.

The Pacific Coast region as a whole produced about 5.4 million pounds of oysters in 2017, about 28 percent less than the 7.5 million sold in 2016, up still a little ahead of 2015’s 5 million.

Nationwide, oyster prices were up in 2017, with an average ex-vessel price per pound of meats was $7.43 in 2017 compared with $6.52 in 2016.

The Gulf region led in 2017 oyster production with more than 16.4 million pounds of meats (down from 24.9 million in 2016), 51 percent of the national total; followed by the Atlantic with 10 million.

Salmon

Once the largest fishery on the West Coast, the commercial salmon catch in Washington and Oregon is a small fraction of what it once was, with Washington accounting for 2 percent of the nation’s catch and Oregon a fraction of a percent.

Alaska accounts for nearly 98 percent of the U.S. salmon catch.

Washington’s 2017 salmon landings were 20.4 million pounds valued at almost $31.6 million — an increase of 4.6 million pounds (nearly 29 percent) and $5.5 million (21 percent) compared with 2016. The biennial fishery for pink salmon landed 551,000 pounds in 2017.

Washington landings of chum salmon were 13.7 million (up 55 percent); followed by Chinook, almost 4.1 million pounds (down over 3 percent); coho, 2 million pounds (down 26 percent); and sockeye, 109,000 pounds (down 16 percent).

The average ex-vessel price per pound for all species in Washington decreased to $1.54 in 2017 from $1.64 in 2016. The average was $1.30 in 2015 and $1.38 in 2014.

Oregon salmon landings were nearly 1.2 million pounds in 2017 valued at $5.5 million—a decrease of 636,000 pounds (35 percent) and $2.7 million (over 33 percent) compared with 2016.

The average ex-vessel price per pound for Chinook salmon in Oregon increased to $8.44 in 2017, a dollar more than in 2016.

“Decades of habitat modification, hatchery practices, harvest and growing competition for water have affected the viability of salmon stocks and made them more vulnerable to adverse environmental conditions,” the federal economics study noted.

Fishery managers struggled to conduct salmon fisheries around major drought issues in 2015, and salmon stocks are still feeling the effect of several years of anomalous warm water conditions. Some salmon runs returned to the Columbia River far below what was forecast for this year.

Other species

Hake, also known as Pacific whiting and used to make fish sticks, continue their strong recovery from the Blob years. The 2017 catch was nearly 774 million pounds, up from 558 million in 2016 and 333 million in 2015. The long-term average annual catch is 464 million pounds.

The Pacific whiting fishery now operates under a federal catch-share program. A separate federal report issued last week about fisheries economics said the number of vessels active in the fishery dropped from 124 to 94 in 2015. Total fleet revenue declined to $39.9 million from a baseline of $40 million, but income per vessel increased to $424,796 in 2015, up from a baseline of $322,419.

Landings of Pacific cod, another important commercial species, fell to 657 million pounds last year compared to 709 million in 2016 and 699 in 2015. The long-term average is 705 million.

The Pacific sardine fishery is in its fourth year of closure, through at least June 30, 2019. There was a catch of 744,000 pounds in 2017, down from 1.1 million pounds in 2016 and compared to 8.4 million pounds in 2015 and 51.1 million in 2014. Before sardine stocks collapsed the average annual catch was 104 million pounds. Pacific sardines currently may be harvested only as part of the live bait, minor directed, and tribal fisheries, as incidental catch in other fisheries, or as part of exempted fishing permit activities.

Albacore tuna landings totaled about 17.1 million pounds nationwide in 2017, compared to 24.1 million in 2016. The price per pound increased to $2.10, up from $1.64 in 2016.

Shrimp were for a time a promising commercial species on the West Coast, but 2017 continued a downward trend.

In the Pacific region, Washington had landings of 7.4 million pounds, down from 14.8 million in 2016 and 42.3 million in 2015. Oregon’s 2017 landings were 23 million pounds, compared to 35.3 million in 2016 and 53.3 million in 2015. California shrimpers saw a slight increase to 4.4 million pounds, up from 4.2 million in 2016 but still only half of 2015’s 8.9 million.

Recreational

In 2017, Pacific Coast marine recreational anglers took nearly 3.9 million trips and caught a total of over 14 million fish, up from 3.8 million trips and nearly 13 million fish in 2016.

More than 91 percent of 2017’s trips were made in California, followed by nearly 5 percent in Oregon, and nearly 4 percent in Washington. The most commonly caught non-bait species (in numbers of fish) were kelp bass, black rockfish, barred surfperch, blue rockfish, and California scorpionfish. By weight, the largest harvests were lingcod, black rockfish, albacore, Chinook salmon, Pacific halibut, and vermilion rockfish.

Washington’s recreational catch in 2016 was an estimated 505,000 marine fish weighing a total of nearly 3 million pounds, down from 586,000 fish totaling nearly 4 million pounds in 2015.

The popular albacore tuna fishery continued having problems in 2017, with a total recreational catch of about 849,000 pounds nationwide, down from 1.57 million pounds in 2016 and 2.23 million pounds in 2015. However, the catch was only about 700,000 pounds in 2014.

General trends

Both the volume — 9.9 billion pounds of fish and shellfish landed by fishermen nationwide, an increase of 344 million pounds over 2016 — and the value of fishery landings — $5.4 billion — increased in 2017, noted Ned Cyr, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Science and Technology.

Seafood consumption also increased.

“This report exemplifies the vital economic benefits provided by commercial and recreational fisheries to American communities nationwide,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said of the report detailing landings and value.

“Every year, farmed and wild fisheries across the United States deliver food to our tables while safeguarding thousands of American jobs.”

Alaska’s Dutch Harbor led the pack in commercial fishery landings with 769 million pounds in 2017 — 1 million pounds less than in 2016. In terms of value for the commercial catch, New Bedford, Massachusetts, logged $390 million, coming in first place ahead of other communities for the 18th year in a row.

The nation’s largest commercial fishery remains Alaska pollock, which experienced near-record landings of 3.4 billion pounds in 2017.

Editor

Editor and publisher of the Chinook Observer since 1991. Contact me at editor@chinookobserver.com or 800-643-3703.

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