A new breed of marketers gives fishing towns a leg up

  • John Warner gets more - and can pay fishermen more - for the fish he sells directly to wholesalers

    REBECCA CLARREN
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Mending the Nets."

COOS BAY, Ore. — Abandoned fish-processing plants cling to the harbor’s edge in this town of 15,000 along the Oregon coast. Less than 20 years ago, there were nine places where local fishermen could sell their fish. Now there are four. In nearby Port Orford, there are two.

Not long ago, every little port on the coast had between five and 10 small "wheelbarrow" processors competing to buy, process and sell the fish local boats brought into port. Today, according to Hans Radke, a natural resource economist and former chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, one giant processor — Portland-based Pacific Seafood Group — gobbles up an estimated 60 percent of all fish, aside from salmon, caught along the coast from Northern California up through Washington. Lacking any real competition, the corporation is able to depress the prices fishermen receive for their catch, flattening the smaller players.

"It’s a tremendous burden on us," says John Warner, a Coos Bay fisherman. "It all has a trickle down effect: If fishermen get less, they have less to invest in their community. In just 20 years, I’ve seen viable communities turn into ghost towns."

It’s a trend all too familiar to ranchers: Four giant meatpacking firms slaughter about 84 percent of the nation’s cattle. In the last two decades, according to the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, the price that meatpackers pay for beef has remained the same, even as the cost of producing it has risen. To fight back, some family ranchers have formed cooperatives, selling their product directly to restaurants and consumers, and charging a premium by marketing them as ecologically friendly.

Now, fishermen are following the lead of such ranchers. In 2002, Warner opened K-Lyn Fisheries LLC, a company that buys fish and sells it directly to wholesalers in Seattle and San Francisco. Fish caught by small boats are cleaned and iced more quickly than fish caught in large trawl nets and sold by larger dealers, says Warner.

Warner’s customers are willing to pay a higher price for the small boats’ fresher, longer-lasting fish, and he is able to pass along an extra 20 to 30 cents more per pound along to the fishermen. That drives up prices throughout the entire harbor: Coos Bay fishers consistently get 20 percent more for their fish than Port Orford fishermen.

To encourage efforts like Warner’s, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have funded Shorebank Enterprise Pacific, a nonprofit lending company, to support small and mid-sized independent fish processors and buyers. Since 1997, Shorebank has lent $4 million to 20 businesses from Northern California to southern Alaska, says Diane Moody, the bank’s fisheries director. Fishermen throughout the region have also begun to market their fish directly to restaurants or consumers via the Internet.

"Most fishermen want to go out and be alone and just catch fish. They don’t want to think about anything else," says Gilbert Sylvia, a marine resource economist at Oregon State University. "But that culture has to change. This isn’t the frontier anymore, and these guys have to find a way to work together and create some sort of niche market. They have to become businessmen."

High Country News Classifieds
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    New Mexico Land Conservancy (Santa Fe, NM), Stewardship Coordinator - Seeking highly motivated individual with excellent interpersonal skills to coordinate stewardship activities and support conservation...
  • 40-ACRE LAMBORN MOUNTAIN RETREAT, PAONIA, CO
    One-of-a-kind gem borders public lands/West Elk Wilderness. Privacy, creek, spring, irrigation, access. $270,000. Info at https://hcne.ws/LambornMT or call 970-683-0588 or 970-261-5928.
  • RECRUITMENT & HIRING MANAGER WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a dynamic, organized, and creative person with great people skills to be our Recruitment & Hiring Manager to recruit...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ATTORNEY (NM) AND POLICY ASSOCIATE/ANALYST (AZ & NV)
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is looking for a variety of positions around the West with our Clean Energy Program. Currently we are hiring a Staff...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HAWKWATCH INTERNATIONAL
    We are seeking an experienced dynamic leader for a growing conservation organization; $65,000-75,000 salary plus benefits; job description and apply at hawkwatch.org/executivedirector
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING FOR THE SUMMER OF 2019
    Friends of the Inyo is excited to post our seasonal job offerings for the summer of 2019! We are hiring Trail Ambassadors, Stewardship Crew Members,...
  • DONOR RELATIONS MANAGER
    This position is responsible for the identification and qualification of major and planned gift prospects and assists in cultivating and soliciting donors through meetings, trips,...
  • STREAMFLOW RESTORATION IMPLEMENTATION LEAD (ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER 4)
    Keeping Washington Clean and Evergreen Protecting Washington State's environment for current and future generations is what we do every day at Ecology. We are a...
  • SENIOR STORMWATER ENGINEER (ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER 5)
    Keeping Washington Clean and Evergreen Our Water Quality Program is looking to hire a Senior Stormwater Engineer at our Headquarters building in Lacey, WA This...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have leadership abilities, experience with rural land protection,...
  • MAJOR GIFT OFFICER
    University of Wyoming Foundation Haub School of ENR, Biodiversity Institute, Environmental/Natural Resource Programs https://uwyo.taleo.net/careersection/00_ex/jobdetail.ftl?job=19001001&tz=GMT-06:00
  • MONTANA LAND STEWARD
    The Montana Land Steward develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans, and methods related to TNC's property interest portfolio in Montana. For more information and...
  • RAISER'S EDGE DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR
    POSITION DESCRIPTION: RAISER'S EDGE DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR The Raiser's Edge Database Administrator ensures the integrity and effectiveness of the member/donor database by developing systems and processes...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    We are hiring a Director of Development Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Bozeman,MT Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for details GYC is an equal opportunity employer
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Arizona Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • 3 POSITIONS: ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR, AND FOREST PROGRAMS ASSOCIATE
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) in Durango and Silverton, CO is hiring 3 staff: Please visit mountainstudies.org/careers for Assoc Director, Dev and Engagement Director, and Forest...
  • CENTER FOR COLLABORATIVE CONSERVATION DIRECTOR, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
    The Center for Collaborative Conservation is hiring a full-time, permanent Director. Applications are due on March 31. Description can be found at http://jobs.colostate.edu/postings/65118 No phone...
  • PROGRAM AND OUTREACH COORDINATOR
    Program and Outreach Coordinator - Dolores River Boating Advocates, a conservation and recreation minded non-profit based in Dolores, CO, is hiring a 20 hour/week Program...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER/DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a skilled non-profit leader to play a crucial role in protecting the greater Bears Ears landscape. Experience working with government...