As thousands of visitors flock to the Oregon Coast every year, most of them are looking for the fresh high-quality seafood that is distinctly Oregonian.

But a study commissioned recently by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association – the destination management organization serving the entire Oregon Coast from Astoria to Brookings – found shockingly that about 90 percent of the seafood consumed on the coast is imported from other domestic and international sources.

In response, OCVA has launched the Ocean Cluster Initiative – United States Department of Agriculture-funded program entitled “Capturing Value by Keeping Local Seafood Local” – to help combat that trend. The initiative aims to help the Oregon Coast’s communities capture more economic and environmental value from the local seafood catch.

“Planes are flying out with Oregon seafood as other planes fly in with the seafood we are selling,” OCVA Executive Director Marcus Hinz said. “Plane by plane, we are increasing the planet’s carbon footprint and shortchanging our communities and visitors. On the Oregon Coast, seafood is an integral part of coastal culture, generational livelihoods, heritage industries and economic development. We can derive more economic value from that product by doing more with it right here where it’s caught.”

Food production makes up a quarter of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and each year seafood continues to be sourced further from where it is consumed. By shortening supply chains and connecting local producers, harvesters, retailers and consumers, the Oregon Coast can boast a more climate-friendly food industry. Sourcing Oregon’s seafood within the state saves on transportation costs and time, as well as reduce carbon emissions by 76 percent.

While Oregon’s top-quality products tend to be exported, the state imported about $105 million in seafood in 2021. This causes significant economic leakages, harming most smaller entities involved, including local fishers, processors, distributors and consumers.

Oregon Coast visitors spend about $840 million on food stores and services annually, according to a 2019 Dean Runyan and Associates study. This contributes tremendous amounts of new money to our local economies. A more recent 2022 study – “Oregon Synthesized Seafood Distribution Chain Model Project” by Hans Radtke and Shannon Davis – identifies that Oregon has a unique opportunity to increase the added value to local seafood and, along the way, create more living-wage jobs and reduce the carbon footprint of our food by increasing local seafood in Oregon Coast markets.

OCVA’s Ocean Cluster Initiative is well poised for partners who share a current vision for what is needed to improve local seafood sales, impacting fishers, processors, wholesalers and retailers. It will create more jobs and economic gain from the fishing industry, which benefits the industry by giving it greater economic power and visibility. It also benefits local communities and visitors who can enjoy more of the best seafood Oregon has to offer. By keeping the harvest, processing and distribution local, each step keeps the economic benefits within our communities.

The false scarcity of locally sourced seafood denies emerging entrepreneurs the opportunity to experiment with and create new shelf-stable seafood products that would greatly increase the value of our natural and wild caught seafood resources. Creating local processing, distribution and support facilities near every fishing port along the Oregon Coast would create an influx of skilled job opportunities, while satisfying the high market demand for local seafood.

Expanding access to local seafood – especially in rural and lower income areas – will increase the value of local seafood, while creating jobs and reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation. Economic studies indicate increased consumption for local catch will generate increased economic contribution on the Oregon Coast and promote higher returns to harvesters and processers. Research indicates a 10-percent increase in local seafood usage on the Oregon Coast would generate an additional $90 million for local economies.

Much of the imported seafood – about 65 percent of product available in the average supermarket in the United States – comes from aquaculture, or the farming of seafood. As local, wild seafood goes to other markets, a lot more fish is brought in from farms. By keeping local wild-caught fish local from the ocean to the consumers’ plates, there will be less farmed fish brought to the Oregon Coast while providing a more authentic culinary experience.

“Oregon’s fisheries are the lifeblood of our coastal and tourism economies – supporting jobs that families rely on and supplying communities across our state and around the world with exceptional products and experiences,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said. “I’m thrilled the USDA has recognized the important work the Oregon Coast Visitors Association does for both Oregon’s fishing and aquaculture industry, as well as our great state’s tourism industry. The grant OCVA has received will support its important work, helping to establish and strengthen the much-needed infrastructure for our fisheries to efficiently operate and thrive, and help our tourism industry bounce back stronger than ever.”

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