Volume XV | Issue 1 | Spring 2015
A commercial fisherman unloads black cod at Port Orford in Curry County. The fish is one of the many species brought in to supply Port Orford Sustainable Seafood. Photo: Lance V. Nix

How one Oregon town got its fish back

Port Orford program strengthens local economy, supplies community with fish

Port Orford, population just over 1,100, is the westernmost city in the contiguous United States. For those even somewhat familiar with geography, that means the town is perched right on the Pacific Ocean, which logically should mean its residents are swimming (pun intended) in an endless supply of delicious, fresh fish.

Not so fast.

“It’s been somewhat of a food desert for fish here, believe it or not,” says Leesa Cobb, executive director of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood (posustainableseafood.com).

“The model has been that our boats pull up to the dock, [corporate] buyers buy our fish, and then the fish goes up the hill. None of it is retained in our community. It’s not processed here; it’s not packaged here; it’s not sold here. And that’s been going on for years and years and years — up until we started making it available.”

Aaron Longton, a commercial fisherman, started Port Orford Sustainable Seafood in 2009 by selling seafood in the Rogue Valley from an ice chest out of the back of his truck. In 2011, the organization expanded to include Oregon’s first Community-Supported Fishery. 

A CSF is based on the Community-Supported Agriculture model that has been around for decades. A CSA is an association of individuals who pledge to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production.

According to Cobb, the Community-Supported Fishery program in Port Orford was launched for three reasons: to strengthen the local fishing economy, supply the local community with fish, and work to conserve the regional ocean ecosystem. 

Portland to Ashland

Port Orford Sustainable Seafood buys fish from roughly a third of the 40 fishing boats in Port Orford, which it then distributes to customers from Portland to the Rogue Valley. The small day boats fish hook-and-line, year-round.

The majority of the seafood that Americans eat comes from farms overseas while we export our domestically caught, wild fish. As a result, there’s very little rapport between communities and their local food supplies (therefore, little motivation to care for said supplies), huge amounts of fossil fuels are expended in transporting farmed fish from halfway across the world, and no one even has a clue what kind of fish they’re putting in their mouths. 

Community-Supported Fishery programs, like the one in Port Orford, are beginning to change this system in favor of local ecosystems and the people who depend on them. 

Taken in part from an article by Eve Andrews, which first appeared at grist.org. Used with permission.

How does the Port Orford Community-Supported Fishery work?

A CSF share equates to a stake in Port Orford’s family-owned fishing businesses. The small day boats fish hook-and-line, year-round, to harvest a sustainable array of seafood including Pacific halibut, Chinook salmon, Dungeness crab, rockfish, sablefish and albacore tuna.

What’s in a Port Orford CSF share?

A monthly CSF share includes all major types of seafood caught in Port Orford. The fishing vessels — like all commercial fishing vessels — occasionally have incidental catches, which may include spiny dogfish, skate or wolf eel. Some of these species may be included in the seafood share, along with recipes to cook them. All of the species are flash frozen in accordance with government regulations. 

Where are shares picked up?

Port Orford Sustainable Seafood has monthly drop-off sites throughout the state: Port Orford, Bandon, Coos Bay, Roseburg, Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, Beaverton, Portland, Cave Junction, Grants Pass, Jacksonville, Eagle Point, Medford and Ashland. n

For prices and more information: posustainableseafood.com

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