For decades, Oregon fisherman have been capturing the delicious and diverse bounty of the vast Pacific Ocean. In 2017 alone, commercial onshore harvests were valued at $144.5 million, and port landings totaled 302.5 million pounds of fish. Today’s fishermen are dedicated to taking care of the ocean that has fed and provided for their families for generations.
A Swimming Industry
Mike Retherford is a second-generation fisherman out of Newport, focusing primarily on shrimp, crab and groundfish (e.g., rockfish, Petrale sole, Dover sole). Retherford began fishing with his dad in 1999, and as he learned more about the industry, he and his brother branched out and bought their own boats. “It’s been an amazing journey,” he says.
Retherford says a lot has changed in terms of sustainability of Oregon seafood and the ocean since the days of fishing with his father. One example is the change to management of fisheries. Rockfish Conservation Areas, or RCAs, came into effect, leading to a shutdown of specific ocean real estate to allow fish stocks to rebuild.
“That is a sustainable management tool,” Retherford says. “As we’ve lived and learned in this era of sustainability and proper management for our fisheries, the fishing practices have gotten better and better.”
Retherford says bycatch reduction is an effort to prevent the capture of nontarget fish. As one of the biggest threats to the ocean, it can cause dramatic decline in fish populations. The learning process has continued to make the seafood and fishing industry better for future generations.
“In the last 20 years, everyone has worked really well together to make our fisheries not only sustainable, but better so we have a future – so we have fish for the next 200 years,” he says.
Brad Pettinger, former director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, adds that Oregon has been a driving force in seafood sustainability. In the past decade, Oregon trawl fisheries became certified to the standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international, nonprofit organization that aims to keep oceans teeming with life for the future. The MSC looks at three core principles: stock health, effects of the fishery on the ecosystem and fisheries management.
“The certification changed the way people looked at us,” Pettinger says. “We’ve been held as an example for the rest of the country and have gotten a lot of support.”
He adds that communicating those sustainability efforts to the public plays a major role in consumer trust.
“It assures folks that the ocean is a good resource. People need to be aware of that and trust what you’re doing. It’s just good policy,” Pettinger says.
Pettinger also won the Champion of Change award in 2016 from the White House for his sustainability efforts that were instrumental to the recovery of many rockfish species.
“It was an acknowledgement that we did the right thing, and the award was a nice kudos,” Pettinger says. “There were a lot of people involved and it was pretty cool.”
Good for the Ocean, Good for You
Tyson Yeck has been involved in Oregon’s industry as a Trawl commissioner and has a strong focus on sustainability.
“Sustainability has been an integral part of our industry culture since the beginning,” Yeck says. “We recognized early on that we need to protect and preserve our resources to ensure their availability for future generations. We focus on sustainable harvest and catch methods in addition to making the best decision to expand beyond wild-caught species to include sustainable farming in aquaculture.”
Yeck adds that the relatively new nonprofit trade association, Positively Groundfish, is helping tremendously to advocate for consumer appreciation and long-term economic success of Oregon seafood.
“It helps producers by generating demand for groundfish, and in turn, jobs in Oregon,” Yeck says. “For consumers, it brings an abundant, healthy, tasty and affordable protein to their plates.”
The Water Is Fine
Retherford, Pettinger and Yeck all agree that the Oregon seafood industry is only poised for more growth, especially with the continuous adoption of sustainable practices.
“I believe we’re in a good place,” Retherford says. “I believe our oceans are really healthy and the future of our fisheries looks very bright.”