TILLAMOOK – Oregon’s coastal seafood economy is leaking $252 million each year, according to estimates by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.

While Oregon is a prolific producer of high-quality seafood, most of it is exported to other markets around the nation and globe. In the meantime, Oregon Coast visitors are spending $840 million on food stores and services annually. Shockingly, a study recently commissioned by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association found that about 90 percent of the seafood sold and served on the Oregon Coast didn’t even originate near the Oregon Coast.

The 2022 study – “Oregon Coast Synthesized Seafood Distribution Chain Model Project” by Hans Radtke and Shannon Davis – calls out unique opportunities to increase value-added local seafood in Oregon and also create more living-wage jobs and reduce the carbon footprint of our food by increasing local sea fare in coastal markets and restaurants.

“It’s crazy that people are coming to Oregon and consuming seafood in our restaurants that came from some other part of the world,” Oregon Coast Visitors Association Executive Director Marcus Hinz said. “In the meantime the product harvest mere miles from our premier restaurants is sold as a raw product globally for less money than could be captured in our local economies if more of that seafare came from Oregon boats, was processed right here in Oregon and served on restaurant plates in our state.”

Simply losing all of those opportunities throughout the supply chain from the saltwater to the shore’s best restaurants is contributing to $252 million that is lost to Oregon’s coastal economy. Maximizing local consumption of Oregon-landed seafood would create more living-wage jobs and provide entrepreneurs access to the seafood resources they need to create new value-added products. Increasing consumption by just 10 percent could contribute an additional $90 million to coastal communities. In 2021 alone, Oregon imported $105 million worth of seafood.

Most emerging entrepreneurs currently are robbed of the opportunity to experiment in emerging markets with local products because of a false scarcity. Oregon knows how to sell its seafood all over the world. If more small local producers could get access, more economic value could be generated in coastal communities. There is a supply of product, but economies of scale make it difficult for many smaller operations to obtain it off the boats.

“It’s really not anybody’s fault that it works this way,” Hinz said. “It’s simply economics. Fisher folks go out and catch fish. They don’t want to deal with multiple buyers – and it’s often difficult from a regulatory perspective to do that anyway – when they can simply sell everything they have to one large buyer and then go home, rest up, and go out fishing again. It’s our responsibility as a coastal business association to find ways to maximize the economic benefits to these communities.”

In response to these issues, OCVA has launched the call to action – the Keeping Local Seafood Local campaign – organized by the Ocean Cluster Initiative to find ways of capturing more of the economic benefit from the Oregon Coast’s signature products. Some initiatives could include developing opportunities for smaller buyers to pool purchasing capacities, such as buyer’s clubs, co-ops and other models. It also can include supporting efforts to create cold storage and smaller scale seafood butchery infrastructure.

“It’s an awakening of the entrepreneurial spirit as it pertains to seafood and other products of the ocean,” said OCVA Deputy Director Arica Sears. “There is an opportunity to create good-paying jobs and see new businesses emerge in the seafood sector. We would love to see more of the economic value of our local harvests captured here on the Oregon Coast rather than being shipped out on a plane which literally passes another plane that is importing more seafood that is farmed or could potentially be tied to global environmental and human rights violations. It’s an environmental and humanitarian movement. It will be much better for coastal pocket books, but it’s more than just economics.”

For more information about the program, those interested can go online to https://www.oregonseafare.com/economic-development.