Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Mark Nero 

West Coast Fishing by the Numbers


May 1, 2018

F/V Dedication landed a nice load of pinks on Puget Sound in 2015. Photo by John Baker.

Commercial landings at fishing ports on the West Coast were down in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to an ecosystem assessment and status report released in March 2018 on behalf of the Pacific Fishery Management Council by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The same was true at ports nationwide, the study found.

Commercial landings – both edible and industrial – by US fishermen at ports across the country were at 9.57 billion pounds or 4.34 million metric tons valued at $5.31 billion in 2016, the most recent year for which full statistics are available. The amount represents a decrease in tonnage of 145.6 million pounds (1.5 percent), but a monetary value increase of $108.7 million (2.1 percent) compared with 2015, according to the data.

Of the 9.57 billion pounds nationwide in 2016, 6.52 billion pounds, or 2.59 million metric tons, came from the Pacific Coast, with Alaska accounting for 5.85 billion pounds; Washington state 551,860 million; Oregon 209,486 million; and California 176,403 million pounds, NOAA data show.

By comparison, in 2015 the total US commercial landings were tallied at 9.71 billion pounds, or 4.4 metric tons, valued at $5.2 billion. Of that amount, the Pacific Coast accounted for 6.79 billion pounds, or three billion metric tons, including six billion from Alaska; 363,007 million from Washington State; 195,448 million in Oregon; and 194,836 million in California.

Regarding commercial fishery landings and value at US West Coast ports, Dutch Harbor, Alaska led the way quantity-wise in both 2015 and 2016 with 770 million pounds during 2016, and 787 million pounds the year before.

The next-highest number of Pacific Coast commercial fishery landings during the two-year period was Alaska's Aleutian Islands which, unlike Dutch Harbor, saw its poundage increase between the two years, rising from 467 million pounds in 2015 to a record amount of 508 million pounds in 2016. The West Coast port recording the third-largest quantity of fish, Kodiak, Alaska, also experienced a dip from one year to the next. It saw 514 million pounds in 2015, but the amount fell to 417 million in calendar year 2016.

The other two Pacific ports in the top five, Naknek, Alaska and Westport, Washington, saw mixed results. Naknek saw 176 million pounds in 2015, but the amount dropped to 170 million in 2016. Westport, however, saw its poundage rise from 84 million in 2015 to 108 million in 2016. Of the 50 ports on the list of US commercial landings, 24 are West Coast ports and of those, the only ones that saw a decrease in poundage from 2015 to 2016 were in Alaska, with the exception of Port Hueneme in Southern California, Moss Landing, in Central California and Ilwaco-Chinook, in Pacific County, Washington.

In addition to the top 50 quantity ports, the study also lists the top 50 major US ports when it comes to product value. Second overall, behind New Bedford, Mass, is Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which saw a total of $198 million dollars' worth of product in 2016, which was a drop of $20 million from 2015 and a distant second to New Bedford's 2016 total of $327 million. The next-highest value port on the West Coast was Naknek, Alaska, with $108 million in tonnage during 2016, a nearly $40 million rise from 2015's $69 million in product value.

In fact, seven of the top 10 ports when it comes to value were Pacific Coast ports, with Naknek followed by Kodiak, Alaska ($107 million in 2016, a steep drop from 2015's $138 million; Honolulu ($106 million in 2016, $97 million in 2015; Aleutian Islands $105 million in 2016, $111 million the year before); Alaska Peninsula ($85 million in 2016, a rise of $13 million from 2015's $72 million); and Bristol Bay, Alaska, which saw the overall value of its commercial landings fall from $90 million in 2015 to $76 million the following year.

A total of 24 of the 50 ports listed are on the West Coast, including 13 in Alaska, four in Washington, three in Oregon, three in California and one in Hawaii. Of the 24 Pacific Coast ports on the poundage list, 13 are in Alaska, five in California, two in Washington, three in Oregon and one in Hawaii.

Chris Fanning, a NOAA fishery policy analyst based in Southern California, told Fishermen's News that some of the smaller ports in the bottom half of the top 50 lists may not move the quantity or the value of the ports in Alaska and elsewhere in the Pacific, but they serve an important role.

"The San Diego port is very key for certain fishing communities and certain species, such as tuna and swordfish," he explained. "It may not rank up there in terms of dollar amounts and poundage coming across the docks, but for smaller communities, it's fairly significant as is San Francisco, as is Port Hueneme, near Ventura."

Industry Revenue Dips

In addition to the above, total revenue across US West Coast commercial fisheries decreased from 2012–2016 according to the data from NOAA released in March 2018. The report attributes the decline primarily to decreases in Pacific hake, CPS finfish, and market squid revenue over the last five years, particularly in 2015. The only fishery that increased in revenue over the last five years was shrimp; revenue, however, fell dramatically in 2016.

Total landings at West Coast commercial fisheries decreased over the five-year period, mainly due to steep declines in landings of CPS finfish, market squid and crab, along with a large decrease in shrimp landings in 2016. Landings of groundfish, excluding hake, were at historically low levels from 2012-2016, while landings of hake were variable, data show. Additionally, shrimp landings declined considerably in 2016, but remained at historically high levels from 2012-2016.

Commercial landings of salmon were at the lower end of historical levels over the last five years. Landings of HMS and other species have been consistently within historic averages over the last 20-plus years, according to NOAA's California current integrated ecosystem assessment team.

"Methods for sampling and calculating mortality in recreational fisheries changed recently, leading to shorter comparable time series. Recreational landings (excluding salmon and Pacific halibut) were increasing through 2015, but a 70-80 percent decrease in yellowfin tuna and yellowtail landings in 2016 brought total recreational landings to within historical averages for the last five years," NOAA explained in its report.

Landings for recreationally caught Chinook and coho salmon showed no trends and were within historical averages, but any further declines may result in historically low landings in subsequent years, according to NOAA.

Fishing Vessel Fleet Diversity

Another issue delved into was the diversity of the types of fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean. As of 2016, the fleet of vessels fishing on the West Coast and in Alaska is less diverse on average than at any time in the past 36 years, according to NOAA, as all categories of vessels that fished along the West Coast decreased in average diversification from 2015 to 2016.

"The long-term decline is due both to entry and exit of vessels, and to changes for individual vessels," the agency explained. "Over time, less diversified vessels have been more likely to exit; however, vessels that remain in the fishery have also become less diversified, at least since the mid-1990s, and newer entrants have generally been less diversified than earlier entrants. The overall result is a moderate decline in average diversification since the mid-1990s or earlier."

However, the report also states that within the average trends, there are "wide ranges of diversification levels and strategies within and across vessel classes," and that some vessels remain highly diversified.

Increased diversification from one year to the next may not always indicate an improvement, the report says. For example, if a class of vessels was heavily dependent on a single fishery with highly variably revenues, like Dungeness crab, a decline in that fishery might force vessels into other fisheries, causing average diversification to increase. Also, an increase in a fleet's diversification may be due to the exit of less diversified vessels.

Types of Landings

Across the US, finfish accounted for 88 percent of the total landings in 2016, but only 43 percent of the value. The 2016 average ex-vessel price paid to fishermen was 55 cents per pound compared to 54 cents per pound in 2015.

Catches of Alaska pollock, Pacific whiting, and other Pacific groundfish that are processed at-sea aboard US vessels in the northeastern Pacific Ocean are credited as "landings" to the state nearest the area of capture. Although information was unavailable for the landing port or percentage of catch transferred to transport ships for delivery to foreign ports, the at-sea processed fishery products, on a round weight basis, was found to be almost 1.6 million metric tons in 2016 and made up 36 percent of the total domestic landings in the US, NOAA said.

Commercial landings by US fishermen at ports outside the 50 states provided an additional 420.4 million pounds (190,707 metric tons) valued at $277 million, data show. This was a decrease of 23 percent, or 128 million pounds (57,912 metric tons) in quantity and a decrease of $7.2 million (2.5 percent) in value compared with 2015. Most of these landings consisted of tuna landed in American Samoa and other foreign ports.

Edible fish and shellfish landings in the 50 states were 7.5 billion pounds (3.4 million metric tons) in 2016-a decrease of 266 million pounds (120 metric tons) compared with 2015.

Landings for reduction and other industrial purposes were over two billion pounds (947 thousand metric tons) in 2016 – an increase of six percent compared with 2015, data show.


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