Health & Economy: The Eat Oregon Seafood Initiative

The #EatOregonSeafood initiative is intended to give the coastal seafood economies a boost as they recover from restaurant closures and other issues related to COVID-19.   

A rich source of lean protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B-12 and D, iron, and minerals like zinc and iodine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that non-vegetarian adults consume two, four-ounce servings of seafood per week.   

Amanda J. Gladics, Assistant Professor of Practice at Coastal Fisheries Extension at Oregon State University, says that just about “any seafood is good for you.”  

In addition to the health benefits of seafood, choosing Oregon-caught seafood supports small businesses and the regional economy. Additionally, many Oregon coast fishers use sustainable fishing methods.  

#EatOregonSeafood Initiative  

The Oregon Department of Agriculture started the #EatOregonSeafood initiative to give a boost to the Oregon fishing industry and coastal economies. They asked OSU Extension and Oregon Sea Grant to partner with them to create a resource for people who want to learn where they can source Oregon-caught seafood.  

Other #EatOregonSeafood partners include: Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, Oregon Albacore Commission, Oregon Trawl Commission, Oregon Salmon Commission, and Oregon’s Positively Groundfish.  

Supporting Regional Economies  

According to Gladics, although some fisheries are run by larger corporations, most fishing boats based in Oregon ports are not. “I would say the vast majority are family owned, small businesses.”  

Gladics says the Oregon Sea Grant and OSU Extension have surveyed the Oregon industry to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted them. She says that preliminary results indicate that 95 percent of respondents said their business is impacted. Although the study is not complete, preliminary results indicate that Oregon fishers have suffered in a few ways due to the economic consequences.   

According to a 2017 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over 60 percent of the money that Americans spend consuming seafood happens when eating out. With recent restaurants closures, fishers associated with a restaurant or who sell primarily to restaurants lost a primary source of income. Even restaurants that remain open for take-out generally operate with fewer menu options. 

 In addition to restaurant closures, some Oregon fishers export products like live crabs or eels to Asia and other international markets. The export market has slowed down or in some cases ceased.   

The Oregon seafood industry has also taken a hit is because of outbreaks at seafood processing plants like Pacific Seafood in Newport. Temporary closures or reduced capacity impacts the marketing and distribution networks.   

While the effects of COVID-19 negatively impacted the Oregon seafood industry overall, some small businesses are successfully selling their products directly to consumers. For example, specialty fisheries sell their products at markets like the Corvallis Farmers’ Market or directly from the boat.   

Another option is to shop at specialty seafood stores like The Pacifica Seafood Market in Corvallis (no connection to the similarly named seafood processing plant Pacific Seafood). In addition to the store in south Corvallis, Pacifica owns two fishing boats that operate primarily near Newport. Although Pacifica opened in August 2019, owner Cassie Bordeaux has around 20 years of experience in the local seafood industry as a fisher and wholesaler. Pacifica primarily sells seafood they harvest themselves or purchase directly from other fishers. Bordeaux says they carry a few imported products like lobster from the east coast.  

Over the past couple of months, new customers called or visited her store seeking tips on how to select and prepare seafood, according to Bordeaux. She says that since people are cooking more meals at home, some are experimenting with techniques and recipes they previously found intimidating.  

Sustainable Fishing Practices  

“You know it’s managed sustainably so all of our fisheries in Oregon are carefully managed by the state and federal government,” says Gladics. “We have strong enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure that fishermen are taking care of the resources.”  

Fishing practices vary depending on the type of fish and the type of bycatch (referring to catching sea species unintentionally) expected. Sustainable practices involve eliminating or minimizing bycatch and focusing on targeted methods to catch only the desired type of fish.   

Bordeaux says both of her fishing boats use either a hook and line to catch fish or pots to harvest crab. Her team doesn’t engage in methods that she considers unsustainable like drag catching.   

She recommends that anyone who wishes to support sustainable practices should ask about the practices used.   

“You know where your products are coming from, and you can choose what kind of fishing you want to support,” says Bordeaux.   

Both Gladics and Bordeaux explain that the state and local regulatory agencies have improved how they manage harvests. In previous decades, a few species were overfished. Some of those populations have restored as a result of improved fisheries management. One success story that both mentioned was the rockfish. 

 Gladics explained, “In 2000, we had a groundfish disaster declared which meant that a whole bunch of species of rockfish were declared over fished.”   

After 15 years, some species of rockfish populations recovered enough to be declared “rebuilt.” These species are now fished in managed numbers.   

“Then in January, 2019 the Pacific Fishery Management Council was able to dramatically increase the catch limits for some of these rebuilt species,” explained Galdics. “Namely Pacific Ocean perch, yellow eye rockfish, boccaccio, and cow cod… These species were rebounding decades ahead of schedule.” 

According to Gladics, a lot has changed over the past twenty years and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has improved its ability to track the population of various species and limit or pause harvest as necessary to allow for recovery.   

Health Benefits – Low in Mercury  

As mentioned, the FDA recommends that adults consume two, four ounce servings of seafood per week to benefit from the nutrients found in fish and other seafood.  

However, multiple health agencies, including the FDA, also recommend limiting the consumption of certain types of seafood due to risk of too much mercury exposure.   

Gladics explains that the risk of mercury exposure is most strongly associated with larger, predatory fish, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and some types of tuna. The FDA suggests limiting consumption of these kinds of fish. Fishers catch Albacore tuna off the Oregon coast seasonally, but these fish are typically low in mercury compared to other tuna.  

“Here in Oregon, we’re really lucky,” says Gladics. “Pretty much all the fish that are caught off our coasts have low mercury levels.”  

Gladics explains that this is due to Albacore’s migration patterns during their lifespan. Early in their lives, Albacore migrate through to the Oregon coast during late June, staying as late as September. “[When Albacore is] off our coastlines they are in large schools of younger fish. Then as they get older, they actually spread out and don’t travel in groups as much. They’re more solitary and then move deeper in the water column.”  

In some cases, frozen seafood can be a convenient and healthier option. In fact, Sushi-grade seafood is flash frozen immediately after catching to destroy parasites that may be in the fish. The freezing also “locks in” the freshness, according to Gladics. A study by the OSU Food Innovation Center found that many consumers couldn’t tell the difference between seafood that was frozen on the boat and that which wasn’t. Some tasters actually preferred the frozen seafood.   

Oregon pink shrimp are another local seafood option that is naturally low in mercury and easy to prepare, according to Gladics.   

Oregon pink shrimp was the first shrimp fishery in the world to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Pink shrimp is also known as bay shrimp. To obtain and maintain the certification, an independent body assesses whether it is a well-managed and sustainable fishery.   

Gladics described some of the efforts the Oregon fisheries took to reduce bycatch when harvesting shrimp. Early on, they instituted excluder grades to keep larger fish out of the shrimp nets. In 2014, they worked with a team of researchers to find a way to avoid catching endangered Eulachon smelt. They drastically reduced the Eulachon smelt bycatch by over 90 percent by placing a series of lights on the bottom of the shrimp nets.  

“That was enough of a sensory signal that the fish would dive under the net,” says Gladics.  

According to ODF, the LED lights on the shrimp nets also caused a 78 percent reduction in bycatch of juvenile rockfish and 69 percent reduction of the bycatch of flatfish.   

Dungeness crab is another high-value seafood harvested off the Oregon Coast seasonally. Bordeaux’s boats catch live crab in pots to sell at the Corvallis Pacifica Seafood Market. Since she sells directly to local customers, she hasn’t experienced some of the same losses as others who export crab to the Asian markets.   

Aquaculture: Oysters and More  

“But we have some really great aquaculture products that do really wonderful things for the environment that they are grown in,” says Gladics. “Oysters are really great at filtering and keeping the bay healthy.  

“In many places of the world, oysters have actually been used in restoration efforts. They’ll plant out oysters and they’ll help filter the water. In some places, those shouldn’t be used as food. But here on the Oregon coast, we have nice, clean water.”  

Oregon coast oyster operations are in Coos Bay, Tillamook Bay, Yaquina Bay, and Netarts Bay.  

However, it isn’t always safe to eat oysters due to naturally occurring biotoxins that occur when a phytoplankton that manufactures one of the toxins bloom, causing an illness known as boxing in humans. The boxing doesn’t harm the shellfish, according to the ODF. The Oregon Department of Agriculture tests oysters to check for these biotoxins and issues warnings when it is unsafe to harvest shellfish.   

In addition, Oregon’s aquaculture industry includes sea vegetables such as dulse seaweed.   

Where to Find Oregon Seafood  

Cassie Bordeaux’s store Pacifica Seafood Market is located in South Corvallis at 1925 Southeast 3rd, Corvallis, OR 97333, or call at 541-752-0558.  

OSU extension and Sea Grant also compiled a ”Eat Oregon Seafood” guide that they frequently update. With future updates, the guide will include boats that sell directly to the consumer, according to Gladics. It includes grocery stores in the area like First Alternative Co-op and Fred Meyer that sell some Oregon-caught Seafood.  

Local Ocean Dock Box delivers “meal kits” to the Benton County Fairgrounds. The kits include Oregon-caught seafood and other ingredients to recreate Local Ocean recipes at home.   

Brandywine Fisheries of Eugene regularly sells troll caught seafood at the Corvallis Farmers Market.   

By Samantha Sied

Photos Contributed by Cassie Bordeaux of Pacifica Seafood Market