NEWPORT — Missed payments, cash draws against the future and unpaid bills.
Shrimp fishermen and plant workers from Newport to Eureka are feeling the financial pinch as a deadlock with processors continues.
“They’ve got to get the plants open,” said Newport shrimper Ted Gibson, a key fisherman’s representative in price talks. “This is really hurting communities financially. I don’t think people have any idea how much money is not coming into Oregon because of this.”
Unable to agree on a price for Pacific pink shrimp, some 60 boats are holding fast to the dock and to their case that a prime market for their product means they should not be fishing for less coin than they did in 2018.
“We honestly don’t think we should be fishing for less than last year,” said Jeff Boardman, captain and owner of the Miss Yvonne out of Newport. “If we keep coming down, what are we going to get next year?”
Frustrated fishermen have stood by as more than a dozen boats from Washington and the Columbia River break ranks and plow the grounds for good trips. Increasing the ire is the fact that the boats have been dragging their nets in grounds traditionally dominated by the central coast fleet. Newport shrimper trawlers this week rejected an offer of 66 cents per pound for mediums product. They fished the same product last year for 72 cents.
A market analysis financed jointly by the coast’s largest processor Pacific Seafood Group and shrimp trawlers pointed to a strong European and domestic market which fishermen translate into a justified 12-15 percent increase over last year’s price. Canadian fishermen got an increase, but it doesn’t look likely in Oregon.
“There is no other cold water fishery in the world being asked to fish for less than last year’s price,” said Gibson.
The season officially opened April 1 and runs through Oct. 31.
Strike breakers have eroded the fleet’s bargaining power, and they’ve broken precedent by fishing right in front of ports that are tied up, say fishermen who indicate they’ll drop the nets for 70 cents, which already means they’ll fish lower than last year. But they’ve indicated they’re done giving ground.
“That northerly fleet has probably cost us $10 million,” Gibson estimated. “That’s a substantial amount of money that should be going into Oregon coastal communities that is not.”
State intervention discussed
The impasse could help prompt rule changes. Boardman said a group of trawlers is gearing up to approach the state about legislation that will help ensure timely price settlements.
“I think in the near future we’re going to get a group of guys together and get the law changed so the state gets involved in negotiations,” Boardman said. “So if we can’t get a price, the state steps in and sets a price.”
Along the way, shrimp fishermen want to remove the first two weeks of the season to allow the shrimp to lay their eggs, Boardman said, helping to assure the health of the fishery and protect its green certification. Fishermen voluntarily held back from considering fishing that period this year.
“We felt that after that 15-day period we’d get to work pretty quickly and that hasn’t happened,” he said.
Coos Bay boat owner Nick Edwards said the fleet is just as strapped and unhappy there as in Newport. With shrimp being caught in Oregon waters and landed into Washington while Oregon waits, “this is basically a reallocation of the resource from Oregon to Washington,” he said.
Anthony Dal Ponte, general counsel for Pacific Seafood Group, iterated the processor’s stance in an email.
“My understanding is that boats in Northern Oregon and Washington are fishing, while local talks in Newport and Charleston continue,” Dal Pont wrote. “The focus at this point is on overall market challenges. Seafood products compete in an international marketplace and are impacted by events around the world (e.g. remaining frozen inventory, changes in domestic and international demand, increased production in the Barents Sea, etc.). We can’t speak for other processors, but we’re working with the boats we partner with to reach mutually beneficial terms that take global, end markets into account.”