Five friends on a four-hour charter get half their limit, but experience the full value of the Oregon coast’s recreational fishery—a critical segment of the local economy
Not only do I have a wonderful, beautiful girlfriend, but when I asked what she wanted to do for her birthday, Laura replied, “Go fishing!” Within a few minutes, I had lodging and a charter boat booked out on the coast of Oregon for the weekend. Oh, the things we do for love.
To accommodate the two of us plus three friends on one boat, we had to take an afternoon trip, meaning more sun, rougher seas, and unfortunately, a cooler bite. But, hey, it was an adventure on public water, and I knew anything was possible! Our captain, Bill, promised us a good time.
This wasn’t our first chartered trip, so we were pretty sure we’d limit out on rockfish and Dungeness crab, but we hoped to land one or two of the more elusive—and delicious—lingcod.
Our empty coolers sat in waiting. By our rough estimates, each angler had the potential to land around $350 worth of fresh seafood, meaning $95 for a four-hour charter was a financially-sound investment—and plenty of fun.
Within minutes of clearing the harbor, the excitement began. As gigantic gray whales surrounded the boat, Captain Bill, who has been doing this for more than twenty years, joked about charging us more for whale watching, and we all laughed. Bill’s two teenage sons spend their summers working as his deckhands, and make good money doing it. “If you live on the Oregon coast, you can bet that you’re logging trees, catching fish, or selling souvenirs to the tourists,” he said. “There’s not much else in terms of industry here.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that recreational fishing brought in $68.9 million for Oregon’s coastal communities in 2014 (commercial harvests netted an additional $160.3 million that year). According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, the effects trickle down from there, accounting for a total of 15,759 direct and indirect jobs in coastal communities and $904 million of Oregon’s gross domestic product.
As for me and my friends, we were happy to be contributing to this important segment of the economy, yet determined to get our money’s worth, and within a few minutes of dropping our lines, I hooked a nice one. Captain Bill was giving me a hard time for the way I was battling with what he thought to be a measly rockfish, but once he saw that I had a two-foot blue-bellied lingcod hooked, he scampered backward to grab the net. I landed a rare and delicious blue beauty.
We high-fived and wondered who’d be next. Laura was all smiles and things were going great. But how the tides can turn.
When the bite went cold, conversation turned to politics, particularly the establishment of marine reserve areas, where fishing is not permitted. A compromise reached in 2012 limited the proposed reserve areas to a handful of designated waterways, comprising about 10 percent of the territorial sea, rather than banning all commercial and recreational fishing within three miles of the coast, where the overwhelming majority of recreational fishing and crabbing happens. Bill doesn’t have a problem with the current reserves, but he’s not interested in adding any more.
“I’d be out of a job!” he explained. “There has to be a better way of addressing fisheries mismanagement. We’re willing to follow the rules.” He explained that his wife is a marine fisheries technician for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (another one of those jobs related to the resource and the industry), and her work has helped to prove that bycatch fatalities were greatly exaggerated back when the statewide reserves were proposed. So were they even necessary?
“They can’t close down fishing entirely,” said Bill. We could see his point but, then, our poles remained unbent. Could we blame poor management? As it turns out, no. We hauled up about half our limit of crabs, about 35 keepers. And when we approached the docks, we saw that numerous anglers had returned with their entire limits. The fishery appeared to be faring quite well.
That night, on unwavering ground—thankfully—Laura and I spent four hours cracking and peeling the fresh crab, dipping it in garlic butter and eating our fill as we went. The taste of our own catch, which went from sea to stomach in the same day, was well worth the costs.