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From tribal fleets exercising their treaty rights to oyster farms in South Puget Sound, we are intertwined with our living marine resources. A 2007 NOAA report found that 40 communities in the state were significantly engaged in or dependent upon commercial fishing. Although only a fraction of the regional economy as a whole relies on the fishing industry, certain localities such as Westport, Bellingham, and Neah Bay are highly dependent.
The Washington fishing communities identified in the 2007 report range from urban centers like Seattle to rural areas with populations of fewer than 500 people. More than half of the state’s fishing communities have fewer than 5,000 residents. From an economic perspective, Washington’s living marine resources sector — commercial fisheries, aquaculture, and seafood businesses — tops the national rankings with a value of $1.2 billion, accounting for almost 10,000 jobs and more than half a billion dollars in wages. Just the commercial fishery landings in the state totaled more than 221,000 metric tons in 2011, worth nearly $320 million. This distinction is due in large part to the state’s role as homeport to the North Pacific fishing fleet, the largest fishing enterprise in the nation. The rankings also reflect coastal marine ecosystems that provide diverse habitats and support numerous species of fishes, crabs, oysters, and other wildlife.
Washington’s waters also support a vigorous aquaculture industry. Washington leads the country in production of farmed clams, oysters, and mussels, with an annual value of more than $107 million. In addition, the state has a longstanding tradition of recreational and subsistence harvesting. Residents and visitors purchase 300,000 licenses each year to harvest clams and oysters, providing more than $3.3 million in state revenue.
Sustainability is defined as meeting current needs without compromising the ability to meet future needs. In 2011, eight species in the West Coast groundfish fishery were managed under rebuilding plans because of overfishing. The plans involve a catch share system, which allocates a secure privilege to harvest a specific area or percentage of a fishery’s total catch to individuals, communities, or associations. Though contentious, the management plans appear to be successful in reducing waste and improving revenues.
- Environmental: The aquaculture industry faces intensifying challenges from environmental stressors such as ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms. For example, in recent years, Washington shellfish hatcheries have experienced significant losses and have altered management practices to compensate for changing environmental conditions. For both healthy and at-risk populations, improved understanding of population dynamics and environmental factors enhances our ability to sustainably manage living marine resources.
- Competition: The fishing and aquaculture industries face an economically competitive environment. In 2011, more than 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States was imported. In Washington, local commercial fishermen search for marketing strategies and product niches that can sustain their industries. Shellfish aquaculture is confronted with use conflicts, environmental concerns, shoreline development issues, and a lack of data to evaluate economic benefits and trade-offs.
- Safety: Twenty-six percent of the nation’s fishing fatalities from 2000 to 2009 occurred in the Seattle-based Alaska fisheries fleet. In 2009, six Columbia River tribal fishermen lost their lives in fishing operations. Many deaths in commercial fishing are preventable. Fishing operations can be made more efficient and profitable with relevant, targeted, and accessible training opportunities.
- Quality: Seafood safety and quality need to be improved. This requires research, technical assistance, and public outreach. Strong consumer demand exists for safe, high-quality seafood from sustainable sources, with important implications for human health and commercial profitability.
WSG staff have a long history of working with the fishing and seafood industry, providing training and assistance to the fisherman who catch the fish and the retailers who sell it.
- For over 35 years, WSG has maintained an outreach office at the terminal, serving the educational needs of fishermen through one-on-one contact and workshops on-site as well as off-site around Puget Sound and the Coast. Our self-guided field trip of the Seattle Fisherman’s Terminal explores the heart of Seattle’s fishing industry.
- Fishing vessel safety, emergency procedures, and first aid workshops are offered year-round by WSG field expers Marine Operations Specialist Sarah Fisken, who provides technical assistance and training for people connected with the fishing and seafood industries.
- Every year WSG presents an annual conference for shellfish growers in South Puget Sound, coordinated by Marine Water Quality Specialist Teri King. The conference features scientists and other experts sharing the latest research and information on shellfish and the environment.
- Retired Marine Fisheries Scientist Ed Melvin worked with commercial fisheries and resource managers to address the problem of seabird bycatch, which includes several endangered albatross species. His research has helped Alaska’s longliners reduce incidental catch of seabirds by nearly 80 percent, circumventing potential lawsuits that might have closed a multimillion-dollar fishery.
- For nearly a decade, WSG staff have teamed with Philips Publishing Group to present the Wild Seafood Exchange, an annual event in Bellingham, Washington, providing opportunities for Pacific Northwest and Alaska fishermen to discuss ways to begin new or enhance existing direct marketing operations with seafood buyers, restaurant operators, retail food dealers, and financial, business, and marketing experts.
- For the past several years, WSG staff have conducted a 12-hour retail seafood training program for apprentice meat cutters. The program is offered in conjunction with Meatcutters Apprenticeship programs at South Seattle Community College and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
- Post COVID-19, Washington Sea Grant has reached out to bridge the gap between fishers and seafood buyers.
- Fishermen’s direct marketing manual
Commercial fishermen can learn about issues involved in selling their product to customers other than the local processor.
- Crabber/towboat lane agreements
Download charts showing navigable towboat and barge lanes through the crabbing grounds between Cape Flattery and San Francisco.
- Preventing seabird bycatch in North Pacific groundfish longline fisheries
Read about the tactics fishermen can use to reduce seabird bycatch.
- Trends in seabird bycatch in Alaska longline fisheries 1993-2015
This analysis was conducted to evaluate progress toward reducing albatross bycatch in the Alaska longline fisheries.
- Why avoiding albatross bycatch is important
A primer on the vulnerabiliyt of the world’s most threatened seabird to fisheries bycatch.
- Albatross protection and West Coast groundfish fisheries: what fishermen should know
Read about new requirements for non-tribal longline vessels 55 or longer to keep seabirds away from bait lines.
- Bycatch mitigation fact sheet
Learn how streamer lines have helped prevent seabird deaths in longline ocean fishing operations.
- Geoduck Aquaculture Program: final report to the Washington State legislature
Read the report on the environmental effects of geoduck aquaculture activities in Puget Sound.
Visit our online library to learn more.
Through scientific research and hands-on work with communities, organizations, and individuals, WSG helps make fisheries and aquaculture operations safe, sustainable, responsibly managed, and economically vibrant; WSG also helps seafood consumers understand the health benefits, safety, and sustainability of their seafood choices. We continue to address important issues, including:
- Common ground storytelling project: tribal sovereignty & fishing rights
- Quinault Reservation Hypoxia Monitoring
- Basic Watchstanding for Fishing Crews
- Pinniped Predation on Chinook Salmon
- Salmon habitat restoration
- Consumer Attitudes Towards Salmon Consumption
- Log Jams Provide Refuges Critical for Salmon
- Ancient, Historic, Modern Salmon DNA Analysis
- Local Permit Ownership in Alaskan Communities
- Genetic Diversity of Sockeye Salmon
- Genetic Conservation in Salmon Hatcheries
- Mapping the Chinook Salmon Genome
- Stakeholder Partnerships in Salmon Recovery
- Tribal Use of Herring Over the Millenia
- Restoring Shorelines to Improve Fish Habitat
- Salmon recovery after Elwha dam removal
- Evolution in salmon hatcheries
- Carrying capacity and mortality of Chinook
- Climate change impacts on Dungeness Crab
- Modeling for data-limited fisheries
- Groundfish management improvement
- Health effects of pollutants in Pacific salmon
- Low survival in young Puget Sound Chinook
- Key fish species trends in Puget Sound
- Spatial structure in Pacific sardine stocks
- Pacific cod adaptation in Puget Sound
- Puget Sound herring stocks
- Salmon around Seattle’s seawall
- Using indices to improve rockfish studies
- Seabird bycatch prevention in fisheries
- Puget Sound ecosystem model for geoduck
- Fishery impacts of Pacific groundfish ITQs
- Maritime Discovery Schools Initiative
In the News
- State provides new guidance for commercial marine fish net pens Department of Ecology, May 5, 2022
- Swinomish tribal members say steelhead net pens violate fishing rights, add their voice to state Supreme Court case Seattle Times, September 22, 2021
- Washington scientists and tribal partners test methods for sablefish production
National Sea Grant Aquaculture Initiative, October 28, 2020
- ‘Sushi parasites’ have increased 283-fold in past 40 years
UW News, March 19, 2020
- Fisheries management is actually working, global analysis shows
UW News, January 13, 2020
- Fishing for the triple bottom line: profit, planet–and people
UW News, October 14, 2019
- New climate report paints grim picture for Pacific Northwest fishing industry
King 5 News, September 26, 2019
- An ancient fish for a revolutionary new fish farm
Washington State Department of Agriculture Ag Briefs, June 25, 2019
- Efforts to better control sea lice, grow steelheads, win 2018 Sea Grant funds
Undercurrent News, October 18, 2018
- Shell-abrating all things seafood at SeaFeast
National Sea Grant College Program, October 1, 2018
- Best geoduck in Washington nominees
USA Today, September 17, 2018
- Washington Sea Grant researchers seek paths forward in local conflicts over geoduck farming
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, August 1, 2017
- ABYC marine systems certification to be offered fall 2017
San Juan Islander, August 2017
- Workshops galore with Washington Sea Grant
Northwest Yachting, March 7, 2017
- Safety at sea training in Washington
The Dipnetter, January 2017
- Workforce development: Safety at sea training in Washington
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, November 16, 2016