Drift Nets & High Seas Piracy

The Collapse Of Salmon Runs

The same year of the takeover, Coho salmon failed to return to Newport and Coos Bay. It was determined by the U.S. Department of Fisheries that Taiwan drift net boats were catching many of the salmon and selling them globally. One shipment of 500,000 pounds of Coho was sold in Paris. Taiwan does not have a salmon program itself. Oregon Aqua Foods was forced to close.

Salmon caught in drift net.

However, the graph prepared by Eric Schindler shows a large number of Spring Chinook and Coho were caught in 1988 by commercial fishermen. This was a result of a release of several million Spring Chinook and Coho smolts from Oregon Aqua Foods one or two years earlier. The spring Chinook originated from eggs taken from the Rogue River Fish Hatchery. This clearly demonstrates that Spring Chinook, the most valuable salmon, can be successfully raised on the Oregon Coast.

The 500,000 Spring Chinook salmon harvested represent greater than a 10 percent return, while the number caught from the Columbia and Willamette River are as low as 0.03 percent—that’s a miniscule three-one hundredth of a percent! This was the last good year of returns to Oregon Aqua Foods before the invasion of drift nets.

Commercial fishermen caught more than 800,000 salmon mostly off of Newport.  Sport fishermen had a great season as well. That year some 51,000 boat days were spent mostly off of Newport. According to the ODFW records only 800 boat days were recorded in 2008.

1988 Spring Chinook catch.

Table of boat days.

The key to salmon smolt survival in the use of net pens is to avoid predators.  Birds that eat the fish are many: Heron, Kingfisher, Merganser, Osprey, Cormorant, Duck, Bald Eagle, Raven, Tern, and Seagulls.  Sturgeon, sea bass, sea lions, seals, and other fish eat the vast majority of the salmon smolts released by fish hatcheries.

Bird predators 

There are hundreds of net pen manufactures in the world with nets available in a variety of sizes and shapes to raise salmon and other fish.

It is now quite common to grow salmon in copper enclosures that are not fouled by mussels and other marine growth.  In fact Codelco copper mine in Chile reports 50,000 tons of copper a year is being used for net pens.

Net Pens

Summary of Fishing Trip and Equipment Expenditures

Another graph shows the ocean sport catch of Coho salmon. Notice that Newport and Coos Bay had the majority of the catch, while the Columbia River, Tillamook, and Brookings remained roughly the same. This is because 95 percent or more of the adult salmon return to the same stream that they were released from.

Graph shows majority of fish caught off of Newport and Coos Bay #13

Today Columbia River, Rogue River, and Tillamook have salmon programs, but there is no major program from Coos Bay to Lincoln City.

Sport fishermen spend more than $800 each, per year, on fishing. A good salmon sports season on the central Oregon coast will create thousands of dollars in economic activity and jobs in the food, lodging, and sports equipment business.

Our Challenge
We challenge ODFW to commence a Spring Chinook net program in the Yaquina Bay, with 60,000 smolt (allowing for 10,000 mortality) grown in a warm water hatchery (we have identified the ideal hatchery).  Our specific proposal can be viewed here.

We know that holding smolt in net pens eliminates preditors.  We know that barging the fish offshore increases the return dramatically.  Therefore we propose that one or two net pens be placed in the port docks at Newport, (or some other reasonable location in the bay) to hold 50,000 Spring Chinook.  The Spring Chinook fry at 50 to the pound will cost 10 cents each.  To grow the fish to 7 to the pound will take 3 tons of fish food at $1800 a ton.  After being feed for 6 weeks in Yaquina Bay, smolt are then barged off shore and will return three eyars later to the sports and commercial fishermen.

There is still information to learn.  We know that fish 7 to the pound come back far better than 20 to the pound.  We don't know what happens if we grow the smolt to 1 or 2 to the pound.  We also need to know what happens to the smolt when released in the ocean.  Commercial fishermen and NOAA can contribute to that discussion.

In order to pay for this program ODFW already charges the commercial fish processors a harvest fee.  Sport fishermen are already paying through licensing fees and harvest tags.

The State of Oregon, the Federal Government, and taxpayers paying higher electric bills to the power companies for dam removal have spent billions of dollars to improve salmon runs with little success. Thousands of hours have been spent by well meaning Oregon Citizens trying to bring back Oregon’s State Salmon, the Chinook.

According to United States National Marine Fisheries Service, an international agreement has been made to ban the drift net salmon fishery.