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Dock tour provides stunning look at local seafood industry

A worker at the Bornsteins Seafood plant prepares rockfish for market Wednesday. (Joyce Carrell)
By Ken Carrell and Joyce Carrell, Friday, June 8, 2018

An abundance of seafood is within our reach, waiting to be harvested.

But the workers are few and the processing plants far between.

“There are no young people coming to the fleet,” said Kevin Dunn, a fisherman and net-maker working out of Warrenton. “It’s a graying industry and trawl boats are expensive.”

Oregon State University and Sea Grant Oregon sponsored the second annual Clatsop Commercial Fisheries Tour on Wednesday, taking 100 public officials, reporters and industry specialists on a tour of the region’s resources.

A dozen specialists talked about the state of the local fishing industry, the bright spots and the hurdles. The overarching theme was the need for cooperation to build economic sustainability.

“ ‘Fishery’ means the people, fish, businesses and activities involved in harvesting a particular type of seafood,” said Sheryl Flores of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Astoria-Warrenton’s fisheries include groundfish trawl, Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, albacore tuna, sardines and anchovies, salmon and razor clams. The region is the only one to allow commercial razor clamming.

Astoria-Warrenton is No. 1 in the state for ground fish and the numbers have risen dramatically in the last two years. In 2017, 140 million pounds was landed, bringing in $30 million in revenue.

Stops on the tour included Englund Marine’s Life Raft Shop in Warrenton, Warrenton Marina and Bornstein Seafoods’ Astoria processing plant. Participants got to sample baked rockfish donated by the Oregon Trawl Commission.

Andrew Bornstein talked about his family’s fish processing business. On Wednesday, the company was packaging rockfish and crab.

Bornsteins would like to process fish 24/7 year-round instead of just seasonally, and handle anything that comes from the Pacific Ocean, Bornstein said. While they employ 150 to 200 workers, the area has a severe labor shortage. In the next decade, they’d like to have a Tillamook cheese factory-style operation, but parking and the cost of port frontage is expensive.

“We don’t have enough processing (room) or humans to process more fish,” he said. “Ninety-one percent of the fish we eat (in this region) is imported.”

Tongue Point Job Corps hopes to change some of the dire labor statistics, said Len Tumbarello of the corps’ Seamanship Program.

The program takes 18- to 24-year-olds and trains them to be qualified fisheries workers earning $50- to $70,000 per year, he said. “It’s a mini maritime academy.”

A diminished workforce is matched by a lack of moorage space for the commercial fleet, Warrenton Harbormaster Jane Sweet said. She showed off the commercial docks, which the city’s urban renewal agency paid to replace in 2016-17.

“Every spot is a working vessel. We have no more derelict boats here,” Sweet said. “Still we have a list of more than 50 boats that want to moor here.”

Harbormaster Jane Sweet speaks to a group gathered for a dock tour at Warrenton Marina on Wednesday. (Joyce Carrell)

Kevin Dunn of K&K Knots describes the intricacies of commercial fishing nets to a group at the Warrenton Marina. (Joyce Carrell)

A commercial fishing life raft was among the products on display at England Marine's Raft Shop. (Joyce Carrell)

Workers at Bornsteins Seafoods prepare Dungeness crab for packaging. (Joyce Carrell)


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