Shrimp Strike

Shrimpers try to keep busy as a price dispute holds boats to the dock in Newport. (Photo by Bret Yager)

Fishermen chafe while boats break strike

NEWPORT — It’s been weeks of blue tarps and yawns on the Newport shrimp boats. But now, frustration is on deck too.

The Pacific pink shrimp season has been open for a month, but processors and fishermen are still far apart on price. The captains and crews of some 115 boats along the coast are holding out while a deal is cut. Their patience is being tried as a fleet of some 20 boats from Washington and Columbia River ports make hay in the traditional fishing grounds of the Newport fleet.

“I don’t know what these guys would do if that was happening out front down here,” said Coos Bay shrimp boat owner Nick Edwards.

Some 500,000 pounds of shrimp landed so far by boats breaking the strike indicates there’s good product volume to be had.

But, Edwards said, shrimpers are looking at offers of 30, 60, 80 and 90 cents per pound for the different grades of shrimp, down from 45, 72, 90 cents and $1.20 last year, when fishermen struck for 44 days to get that price schedule.

Edwards blamed the slow and steady consolidation of processing facilities under just a few corporate names for a lack of competition and less chance for a deal fishermen can accept.

Newport fisherman Gary Ripka said that north coast boats breaking the strike have traditionally observed an unspoken agreement to stay well north of Newport.

“They’re rubbing it in our faces,” he said. “They’re fishing right in front of town. Good trips. I’s become a real boiling point.”

Ripka and Edwards said indicators — including a widely respected market analysis by seafood market expert John Sackton — point to some of the best market conditions ever.

“Canada settled for the highest price ever,” Ripka said.

Pacific Seafood Group is the largest buyer of shrimp on the coast. The company said it hopes to resolve the price dispute soon.

“Pricing discussions are ongoing as the various stakeholders in the seafood industry balance the market realities we all face,” stated Anthony Dal Ponte, general counsel for Pacific.  “While we can’t speak for other processors, Pacific Seafood hopes to reach mutually-beneficial terms with the boats we partner with soon so that we can all get back to doing what we do best: providing fresh, West Coast shrimp to consumers around the world.”

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