Volume XIX | Issue 2 | Fall 2019
The Port of Garibaldi is home to about 60 small commercial fishing vessels.

Lifting all boats in northwest Oregon

A seafood value chain has potential to improve the Garibaldi economy

Nestled on Tillamook Bay along Oregon’s North Coast lies the small city of Garibaldi, population 815. At the center of town is the Port of Garibaldi, the physical and cultural heart of the community, where around 60 small commercial fishing vessels are docked when they aren’t out on the ocean in search of seven types of seafood, including Dungeness crab, albacore tuna and Chinook salmon. These boats represent local, independently owned small businesses, often employing deckhands and supporting an array of interconnected local businesses. 

Port of Garibaldi

This small-scale fleet primarily uses low-impact fishing gear and catches small volumes of fish on day trips allowing for delivery of high-quality, individually handled seafood. 

The Port of Garibaldi, which dates to the early twentieth century, is the nearest seaport to Portland, Oregon, located about 85 miles west of the city along Highway 101. It is part of the Tillamook County port area, which is considered the second largest of the state’s smaller ports by revenue generation.

Like many other small fishing fleets across the country, the Garibaldi fleet is facing a variety of challenges caused by both internal and external forces. The workforce in the fishing industry is aging (the median age is 51.5 years) and there are barriers to succession planning as well as in attracting younger workers to the field. The impacts of industry consolidation can pose threats to small boat operators like those in Garibaldi, resulting in fewer options to sell their product and having to settle for lower prices because of a lack of competition. Other challenges include those caused by a changing climate and its impact on sea life, the high cost of fishing permits, and the general operations of running a fishing vessel. 

The value chain

The concept of the value chain is an essential part of any discussion of Oregon’s small-scale seafood market. A value chain is the full range of activities that businesses go through to bring a final product or service to their customers. When more of those steps happen locally, the value added to the processing of a raw material is retained in the community and builds community wealth.

A stronger small-scale seafood value chain for Garibaldi and wider Tillamook County has the potential to improve the economy in a place where the unemployment rate is over 6% and median income is 77% of the median for the rest of the state. By expanding economic opportunities for selling their product and providing stability for North Coast fishermen, a well-functioning value chain can improve the livelihoods of boat owners, crew, processors, retailers and others living in the area, all while keeping the community’s strong maritime identity alive. 

Efforts to develop value opportunities for small-scale seafood businesses in Garibaldi and Tillamook County date back to 2013. That’s when Rural Development Initiatives (RDI), an Oregon-based nonprofit that supports economic development in rural communities, launched a pilot program to encourage rural regions throughout the state to explore the principles of WealthWorks. These principles include building value chains and identifying assets and different forms of wealth. A diverse group of partners serving the area came together to drive this initiative and explore the possibilities for the North Coast. 

In addition to RDI, the organizations included the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District (Col-Pac), a private, nonprofit organization focused on encouraging economic diversification and resilience throughout Northwest Oregon; the Port of Garibaldi, which promotes local economic development and manages the waterfront and supports vessels; the Economic Development Council of Tillamook County, the county-wide economic development organization; Visit Tillamook Coast, the local tourism entity; and the Tillamook Bay Community College Small Business Development Center. The strength of this coalition is its breadth of expertise and the mix of resources each organization brings to the initiative. 

In January 2017, Col-Pac contracted with two staff members from Ecotrust (with over 20 years’ experience serving fishing communities) to serve as value chain coordinator. Ecotrust, located in Portland, is a nonprofit focused on advancing social equity, economic opportunity and environmental stewardship. 

“Fishing communities across the country are grappling with the interrelated challenges of maintaining or reviving their economic, social, cultural and ecological wellbeing in the face of change,” says Kelly Harrell, one of the value chain coordinators with Ecotrust. “WealthWorks offers a different model of economic and community development that addresses root causes that are at the core of thriving fishing communities.” 

The partners took a deep dive into analyzing and understanding the intricacies of the local seafood industry. This included conducting research, organizing partner meetings, carrying out interviews and surveys with fishermen and regional partners, participating in local events, and mapping out the value chain. 

Through this effort, key priorities emerged for growing the value chain: improving seafood industry infrastructure; monitoring and enhancing local fisheries access and ownership; and supporting fishermen and seafood businesses in business development and connections to markets. 

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from a case study appearing on the WealthWorks website. For the rest of the story about this work in progress, visit www.wealthworks.org > Success Stories.

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