Early Efforts To Restore Salmon Runs

Oregon Legislature

Forty years ago the Oregon legislature approved legislation that allowed the release and recapture of salmon by private sector organizations.  This was the advent of Salmon Ocean Ranching in Oregon.  Over a period of 30 years a vast amount of resources, and capital have been expended.  The new technologies developed during this period proved to be.  Commercial and sport fishermen benefited and jobs were created.

Several of us have “paid our dues” through trial by fire.  We believe our proposals can bring back Oregon salmon and the industry they supported.  This once bountiful resource can be once more.

Four companies implemented aquaculture in Oregon.  Oregon Aqua Foods at Newport and Anadramous in Coos Bay were the largest. Dr. John Lindbergh started a fish farm in Florence, but gave up and went to Chile where he started a highly successful tilapia and salmon farming operation.  Chile now air freights three flights of processed fish to the United States each week. The other fish farm at Brookings is no longer in operation.  It appears that the very efficient commercial fisheries and sport fishermen caught most of the fish before they returned to their release site.

Oregon Aqua Foods was founded by Doctors Jack and Lauren Donaldson, who partnered with Fisher Flouring Mills.  The new company built holding ponds at South Beach to hold salmon smolts before releasing them to sea. Fisher Flouring Mills folded, so Weyerhaeuser took over by investing some $9.3 million in a state-of-the-art hatchery in Eugene, using warm water from the paper mill to grow the small salmon faster.  Then the infant salmon, now called smolts were trucked to Newport and held in holding ponds at South Beach until large enough to release at sea.


ODFW Historical Ocean Harvest Information

ODFW historical ocean harvest information reprinted here, graphically shows the commercial fishing catch of Coho and Chinook salmon over a period of 50 years.

In 1978 it shows a commercial catch of 1.8 million Coho landed off of Newport and Coos Bay, where the smolts had been released.  Sport fishermen caught another 500,000 and Anadramous and Oregon Aqua Foods received another 500,000 or so.

The peak catch and effort years were 1976 when 538,400 angler trips resulted in a catch of 79,300 chinook and 501,300 coho.  The daily bag limit was three salmon and the season lasted from April 10th to December 31.  In 1996 the seasons and catch quotas were very limited and resulted in an ocean catch of 11,210 Chinook and 7,176 Coho from 43,962 angler trips.  Beginning in 1994 Oregon's ocean recreational fishery was limited to chinook salmon.  In 1998, the first selective hatchery coho (fin clipped) fisheries were authorized off ORegon.  These sleective fisheries have allowed limited, but successful, targeted coho salmon fisheries to resume.  It appears that selective coho fisheries will contiues for at least the short term, as stocks continue to rebuild.

Spring Chinook $22.00 a pound.

Spring Chinook Salmon similar to the Copper River Salmon in Alaska retail for as much as $22.00 a pound.  This same type of salmon was raised on the Oregon Coast by the former Oregon Aqua Foods at Newport, and it can be done again.

Alaska price schedule for Copper River Salmon

The information in this report is easily available from the internet.  The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has numerous historical pages of facts and figures on the salmon industry in Oregon, many of which are included here.  It would take the largest part of a year to read all the internet stories about salmon.  We have selected only a few for this article.

Doctor Bill McNeil, former professor of Fisheries at Oregon State University, Dick Severson, former manager of Oregon Aqua Foods, who now owns a nursery in Springfiled, and businessman Tom Becker who was contacted by the Donaldson’s to help start Aqua foods as an initial investor, have prepared this report.  A large group of friends interested in bringing back the salmon industry have helped us.

The great increase in this area’s salmon industry started in the 1960’s when Dr. Jack Donaldson was a professor in the department of Fish and Wildlife at Oregon State University.  He was an early leader in the international biological fish program, developer of Oregon Aqua Foods and director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.  He and his father, world-famous Dr. Lauren Donaldson, a professor emeritus of fisheries at the University of Washington, came to Newport, to pioneer raising salmon in net pens.  They were turned down by ODFW because the department felt the salmon feces would contaminate the bay.  (Sea Lions actually win that contest)

At the same time Dr. Dunar Rolofson of the Norwegian Fisheries Institute in Bergen, Norway came to Newport to investigate using net pens for salmon. Dr. Jack Donaldson had attended his school in Norway years earlier. Dr. Rolofson went back to Norway and founded the now vast Norwegian farmed salmon industry using net pens.  There is now a statue of him on the waterfront in Bergen for his vital contribution to the economy of Norway and its remote fishing communities.

The large returns in 1986 were partially a result of the offshore barging of smolts at Newport.  This bounty would not last, as ODF&W made Oregon Aqua Foods stop barging because a small number of Oregon Aqua salmon strayed into Salmon Creek north of Lincoln City.

Salmon returns then plunged as the mortality of smolts rose.

Graph of troll landings.

Picture of Weyerhaeuser barge transporting smolt offshore

Picture of sports fishermen lining the banks to catch salmon

Weyerhaeuser faced incredible opposition to smolts barging by environmental groups as well as fishermen from outside the Newport and Coos Bay area.

Weyerhaeuser sold their salmon operations to a group of investors headed by John Castles, son of the late Jim Castles, founder of Techtronic. John is now chairman of the Murdock trust and raised more than $10 million to purchase Oregon Aqua Foods from Weyerhaeuser. Some Newport fishermen also invested in the new venture only to lose their money.