In the early years of this decade, it was a good year if anglers hauled more than 3,000 albacore back to Newport, Depoe Bay, Tillamook and other ports on the Oregon coast. These days they often land several times that many in a week.
And through late August, Beaver State sport fishermen have landed the second most albacore on record, some 37,300 — during what has turned out to be a pretty decent coho year too.
This late in the season it’s doubtful we will hit the all-time record — 2007’s 58,900 — but it’s proof that Oregon’s sport fleet has adapted quite well to this new offshore fishery.
“It wasn’t that long ago that ago that guys didn’t feel comfortable going more than 10 miles out,” says Eric Schindler, an ODFW ocean catch-sampler in Newport and albacore angler himself.
He says that better boats, GPS systems and more reliable equipment has led to the surge in interest and catch.
“The fleet has changed. They changed to go offshore for Pacific halibut. If anything, going 35 miles out has become no big deal,” Schindler says.
Reliable catch data begins in 1999, when an estimated 1,500 albies were brought back to port, according to Schindler. And while it’s grown pretty much every year since — 2,900 in 2000, 8,600 in 2001 — there have been fallback seasons when warm water stayed well offshore or the weather just wasn’t good enough.
Then again, in early July, tuna weather was poor, keeping anglers off the ocean for awhile — and then the next week, they caught 11,000, ODFW tweeted. That helped make this season’s catch nearly half again as large as the next closest, 2008’s 24,300.
Schindler says 3,600 were landed in 2002, 10,400 in 2003, 17,700 in 2004, 5,000 in 2005 and 11,600 in 2006.
“It’s exciting to see the fishery grow,” he says. “It’s fun.”
Washington’s largest tuna catches occurred in 2007 and 2006. Both saw 25,000 landed at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.
Will Oregon’s good albacore fishing continue? Schindler thinks so, pointing out to sea to strong year-classes.
But we couldn’t help ourselves: What, we wanted to know, will be the Next Big Thing off Oregon? Will it be Humboldt squid?
While Schindler hopes this “very voracious predator” doesn’t keep coming north from Baja and California, he doubts they will ever be anything more than “one of those off-the-wall fisheries, things guys do from time to time.”
“We get guys talking about swordfish, salmon shark and thresher shark,” he adds. “Swordfish are further out than albacore. Bluefin tuna might be it. There’s not a lot caught, but the numbers are going up. We’ve got people talking about how to do it. They’re supposedly a better fighter, a better sushi-grade fish, it’s something different.”