For freshness, there’s just no comparison.
That was the conclusion of San Jose resident Russell Taylor, who ambled up to The Barge on Newport’s Dock 7 on Wednesday to scope out the supply.
“You can’t beat the fish,” he said.
It’s busy times and good landings for the Newport tuna fleet. Daily, crowds gather boatside to watch the glint of steel and the deft movements of deckhands rendering whole tuna into loins ready for the grill or canning jar.
John Kosta, co-captain of the Fishing Vessel Pacific Rim, prepared his boat for departure on Wednesday by arranging ice blankets in the hold to keep the ice from melting. He planned to be back in harbor, selling fish in time for Labor Day Weekend.
“We’re gonna soak some gear anyway,” he said. “We’re gonna have tuna for sale — fresh, bled, iced — right off the dock.”
Sales of albacore have been brisk, but captains report they are having to work for them. The migratory fish draw near to the coast in the summer and fall, following warm ocean currents. The albacore tend to bite when the water temperature climbs above the 60-degree mark, but some years those warmer waters don’t reach as close to the shoreline.
“We’re going to run all day and all night before we catch a fish,” Kosta said.
Pacific Rim owner Darren Johnson said the run to the fishing grounds has been 70 to 80 miles compared to 30 or 40 miles on good years like 2015 and 2016, when El Nino conditions spiked heat levels in the ocean.
But it’s been hard for fishermen to complain too loudly. The Pacific Rim had a recent 154-fish day, with some of the tuna in the 25-30 pound range.
Typically, the albacore have been closer to 15 pounds, said fish cutter James Parrish.
At The Barge, operated by Chelsea Rose Seafood, customers were buying whole tuna for $3.50 per pound and paying fish cutters like Marshall Tasa and Parrish $4 a fish to have the tuna cut into loins, which comprise about half of the fish’s total weight.
“It’s canning season so everyone comes at once,” said Tasa. “There are days when we don’t sit down.”
The $4 surcharge for cutting the fish is worth it, Parrish said. But that doesn’t keep some people from trying their own filleting at home.
“We’re good at what we do,” he cautioned. “But I’ve heard of people going Edward Scissorhands and hacking them up.”
The Fishing Vessel Brandy sat low in the water of Yaquina Bay with a load of albacore this past week. Out of Winchester Bay, the boat has a freezer and has been chasing the fish up to 200 miles offshore.
“That’s pretty far,” said captain Josh Barton, of Florence.
His load was not slated to be cut and sold off the dock to local consumers. Instead, the frozen fish would fetch $3,300 per ton, sold to Canadian processors.
Export tariffs have discouraged foreign buyers and hurt fishermen this year, Barton said.
“Last year the price was $6,800 a ton, but there wasn’t many fish,” he said. “This year there are a lot of fish so the price is down.”