: Travis Thompson / Elevation 0M / OCVA

Insider’s Guide to Oregon’s Local Seafood

Experience Oregon's rich fishing heritage and the freshest local seafood at ports along the Coast.
May 17, 2024
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The rigging of the fishing vessel Galway Bay rises higher than the second-story window of the Charleston Marine Life Center on the South Coast, where visitors get a gull’s-eye view of Charleston’s working port. Crab pots are stacked high on the dock as crews ready their vessels for the upcoming pink-shrimp season. Next to the operation, a University of Oregon research vessel bobs gently at its slip.

“This is a great place to see the workings of a fishery — everything from unloading to sorting to DNA sampling,” says Trish Mace, the center’s director. She points out an adjacent video screen, where visitors can learn about the species caught in these waters and the methods for harvest.  

It’s a snapshot of Oregon’s highly successful fishing industry, where fishing families, marine scientists, government agencies and local businesses work together to protect an exceptional marine environment as they supply high-quality seafood to the world. From Astoria to Brookings, here’s where you can experience the local flavor. 

Commercial fishing boat in Astoria (Photo by Shawn Linehan)

Maritime Heritage of the North Coast

Near the mouth of the Columbia River, the commercial fleets at Astoria and Warrenton routinely venture over the Columbia Bar to bring in more than half of Oregon’s overall harvest, which includes wild-caught pink shrimp, crab, albacore tuna, salmon, halibut and a range of white-flesh fish from lingcod to rockfish, collectively known as groundfish. By value, the top catch in Oregon goes to prized Dungeness crab. 

Each species has its own commercial season, which guides you to what’s fresh in markets. You can sometimes buy right off a boat in the Warrenton Boat Basin (look for handmade signs) and at the nearby Fishstix Seafood Market. The day’s catch also goes to local restaurants like South Bay Wild Fish House and the century-old Josephson’s Smokehouse, both owned by local fishing families.

Josephson’s Smokehouse (Photos by Justin Bailie)

For history lessons about the salmon and tuna canneries that lined the river in the 1800s, you have a few options in Astoria. Board the seaworthy former tugboat called the Arrow No. 2 for a Columbia River tour of the area’s fishing history, or head to the Hanthorn Cannery Museum at the Riverwalk’s east end on Pier 39, the wonderfully creaky 1875 complex that houses the oldest cannery building left on the Columbia, for a self-guided tour. The Columbia River Maritime Museum features exhibits on commercial fishing, the cannery industry and the perilous work of the U.S. Coast Guard. Come back in February for the FisherPoets Gathering to hear fishers from as far away as the Bering Sea perform a salty twist on the classic cowboy-poetry tradition. 

Ninety miles south in Pacific City, some fishers make do without a marina, instead launching flat-bottomed dory boats directly into the surf. The return to shore can be quite an adventure, too, as captains sound a horn and slide in on a wave to land directly on the sand. Watch for the action between the boat ramp and Cape Kiwanda, or experience the rush on a dory fishing charter with an outfitter like Pacific City Fishing, Kiwanda Fishing or Sea Bliss Dory Charter. Dory Days celebrates the century-old tradition in July, with boat displays, a parade and a dory-caught fish fry. 

Albacore poke at Local Ocean (Photo by Shawn Linehan)

On the Docks on the Central Coast

It’s a steep descent from U.S. 101 to Yaquina Bay, where Newport’s fleet of nearly 200 commercial vessels shares a colorful working waterfront with shops and eateries, seafood processors, marine suppliers, and a rowdy raft of ork-ing sea lions. A hub of science and research lies across the bay, including the Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University’s base for oceanographic research. Visitor exhibits include scale models of typical commercial-fishing vessels and lots of hands-on activities for kids.  

Shop at the Dock tours help make sense of it all. Spearheaded by Sea Grant Oregon to promote purchasing seafood directly from fishers, the free hour-long program has evolved into a fun and informative outing for anyone who’s ever wondered what goes on down on those docks. Guides lead participants right past the big boats, describing different types of catch and how vessels are rigged accordingly. Tours are first come, first served on Fridays in July and August 2024. Sign up on-site at the well-signed entrance to Dock 5, and check the website for other locations that offer tours this year.

Commercial fishing in Newport Bay (Photos by Shawn Linehan and Positively Groundfish / OCVA)

Across the street, the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center provides the best view of Yaquina Bay and a deeper dive into how Oregon has built such a sustainable fishery. A permanent exhibit called “Beautiful and Wild Oregon Fisheries” explains how thoughtful fishing and habitat practices can maintain healthy fish populations. 

The Newport fleet is the state leader for Dungeness crab. In summer fishers also bring in line-caught albacore tuna and halibut and a range of other sustainable fish. Look for placards along the boardwalk announcing boats with fresh catch for sale, or check out what’s on the chalkboard at the Chelsea Rose Seafood floating fish market. The Local Ocean fish market and restaurant buys right off the boats for its popular eatery across the street. 

Port Orford Marina (Photo by Shawn Linehan)

Marine Research and Fresh Fish on the South Coast

Just as OSU and Newport share a port, the University of Oregon’s Institute of Marine Biology is close neighbors and colleagues with Charleston’s commercial fleet, the state’s third largest. Along with its dockside viewing window, the institute’s Marine Life Center gives the public a window into its work and Oregon’s marine world. An exploration gallery highlights current research in marine populations and migrations, and you’ll see plenty of live-specimen tanks and undersea videos. You can head to Chuck’s Seafood afterward to stock up on smoked fish or fresh clams, a specialty of the area.  

At Port Orford, the local fleet isn’t in the town’s picturesque rock-rimmed cove but resting on dollies lined up on an elevated dock above it. This unusual “dolly dock” relies on heavyweight cranes to hoist boats to and from the water. The fleet, with most boats under 40 feet long, heads out to fish for nearshore species like rockfish or deeper-water catch like albacore tuna when it’s in season. Commercial divers and research scientists are at work in the area’s kelp beds, too, studying seaweed and harvesting sea urchin — the sushi-grade uni that is a valuable export to Japanese markets. Try delicious fresh-fish bowls for lunch at the Galley, Port Orford Sustainable Seafood’s walk-up stand, open at various times in season — check the Instagram account for current hours. 

Catalyst Seafood brings back fresh fish for their fish tacos (Photos courtesy of Catalyst Restaurant and Travis Thompson / Elevation 0M / OCVA

The Brookings-Harbor commercial fleet sits at the mouth of the Chetco River, where shrimpers with full hoppers of delicate pink shrimp offload their catch right at a local processor in port. Local shrimp, crab and rockfish also stay in town and on the menu at Catalyst Seafood, run by a fourth-generation fishing family. With each delectable bite, you’re playing a vital part in supporting one of the world’s healthiest, freshest fisheries.

For even more tips, check out Oregon Coast Visitors Association’s sustainable seafood overview and Oregon State University’s Sea Grant program’s guide to buying and preparing Oregon seafood.

About The
Author

Tina Lassen
Tina Lassen writes about travel and outdoor recreation for several national publications and websites, and is at work on a guidebook about watching wildlife in North America. She has lived happily in Hood River for more than 20 years.

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