U.S. Albacore Fishermen Draw Attention to Domestic Woes


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
July 15, 2008

The cost of running an albacore tuna-fishing vessel, due to rising fuel prices, is threatening the livelihoods of West Coast fishermen, says the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA).

Therefore, albacore (white) tuna fishermen are trending away from exporting their product and are tapping into the emerging domestic market for sustainable seafood, says the Portland, Ore., nonprofit group, adding that U.S. politicians must help the industry supply American consumers.

"This is about our survival. Fuel prices have risen 600 percent since 2002, but albacore prices remain at 1980s prices. We're really struggling; there are guys who are going out fishing together to save on fuel costs," says Wayne Heikkila, executive director of the WFOA.

Heikkila says a 400-mile trip to prime albacore fishing grounds off the West Coast costs the average troller $2,500 in fuel; the same trip cost less than $1,500 last year.

The WFOA is urging U.S. senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to provide tax subsidies or incentives to commercial fishermen. The WFOA yesterday welcomed new legislation introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to provide commercial fishermen a temporary income tax credit to help offset fuel costs.

To save on transportation costs, the export-driven albacore fishermen are shifting focus to the domestic market, tapping into the trend toward locally sourced, sustainable foods by launching a branding and marketing campaign around Wild Pacific Albacore (www.pacificalbacore.com).

The WFOA is helping its membership, consisting of 300 family-owned vessels and 100 supporting shore-based businesses, to build new distribution networks with wholesalers, restaurants, and upscale grocery stores.

"U.S. troll-caught albacore is locally and ethically caught - yet it is still lesser-known in the domestic market. We hope to change this, but we need to be able to fish to do it," Heikkila says.

Each season, an average of 30 million pounds of albacore is landed on the West Coast, but only 2 to 4 million pounds of the albacore caught by small family-owned boats on the West Coast is distributed to U.S. consumers, says the WFOA. U.S. fishermen's overall share of the domestic albacore supply is currently less than 20 percent.

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