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Oregon’s coastal waters teem with unique seafood. So why isn’t it ending up in our restaurants?
By Ramona Denies
May 23, 2016 | Portland Monthly
un your finger down a map of Oregon’s coastline and stop, just above the California border, at the state’s paunch. Here—near one of contiguous America’s most westerly settlements—some three dozen scrappy little boats do daily battle with high waves, as Port Orford’s fishing fleet aims to land a catch worth upward of $3 million a year: the town’s pride, the engine of its very existence. And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Port Orford fish—or one from Coos Bay, Newport, even Astoria—on most Oregon restaurant menus.
“They go up the hill,” says Capt. Aaron Longton, gesturing north of Port Orford to the fish processing plants some 50 miles away in Charleston, “and out of the country.”
Oregon fishers hauled in 210 million pounds of seafood last year, contributing about the same amount, in dollars, to our state economy. (And that was a slow year.) We feed the world—OK, mostly Asia—a serious tonnage of pink shrimp, salmon, albacore, and crab. These are the big fish, so to speak, of our saltwater market: what processors buy, what you might see in New Seasons, marked Oregon-caught. As such, even long-time Oregonians might not know that within a few miles of shore, a potential new universe for foodies swims and clings in our state’s rich, highly regulated waters: abalone and wolf eels, quahogs and gaper clams.