ILWACO — Commercial albacore tuna season swam into action last week with the first official landings hitting local docks.

Safe Coast Seafoods and Ilwaco Landing each recorded their first offload of the 2021 commercial tuna season Monday, July 12 in Ilwaco.

Landings have been slow to start the season, fishermen and processors reported, which is par for the course. August has historically been the month with the heaviest commercial tuna landings for Oregon and Washington, with the season wrapping up around October, depending on weather.

“It’s a pretty typical start with fish scattered and in low numbers, but we are encouraged that the water temperature and sea life look more typical and are in good shape to hold large numbers (of tuna) as they come in,” said Tre-Fin Day-Boat Seafood co-founder Michael Domeyer, who recorded their first tuna of the season Saturday, July 17.

Tricky tuna

Albacore tuna fishing is notoriously unpredictable year to year, where everything from ocean conditions to fish location can make the fishery a bonanza or bust.

The past few seasons have been especially tough for Pacific Northwest commercial tuna fishermen.

“Challenging,” “inconsistent,” “strange” and “worst ever” were some of the words used to sum up the 2020 season by local processors, commercial and recreational fishermen at the end of the season last fall.

Coast-wide catch during the 2020 season was about two-thirds of the 20-year average, according to Western Fishboat Owners Association Executive Director Wayne Heikkila, who monitors the commercial tuna fishing season coast-wide from California to Washington as part of a non-profit group representing 400 albacore fishermen on the West Coast.

Commercial landings of albacore into Washington have ranged from a low of 4,161 metric tons (mt) in 2018 to 8,774 mt in 2012 in the last decade, with an average of 6,865 metric tons, according to WDFW. Approximately 200 to 300 vessels land albacore into Washington ports each year, with the majority being landed into Westport, followed by Ilwaco/Chinook.

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