Leesa Cobb sees plenty of Oregon’s latest fishing crisis up close and personal. As part of a fishing family in Port Orford, she has felt the collapse of the bottom fish industry. It has put an extra squeeze on household finances and dampened the community optimism that’s otherwise as common among commercial fishermen as scruffy beards and weatherworn hands.
“Our income will be down 50% this year,” she says. “We’re really tightening our belts, looking for anywhere to cut expenses.”
Cobb’s husband, Darrell, is a second-generation trawler who has plied the water off the coast in search of bottom-dwelling fish such as cod, snapper and sole that delight diners and pay the bills back home.
“When Darrell was 8, he was told he could either go to Sunday School or go fishing,” Cobb says. “So he went fishing with his dad. He’s been doing it ever since, probably 25 years now.”
But lately, it’s been a lot harder to do it for a living. Groundfishermen in Oregon have seen their incomes sliced over the last decade as regulators cut back harvest levels to ease concerns about the health of fish stocks.
The change has Cobb scrutinizing her budgets as well as listening to her small fishing community’s restaurant and store owners worry that if the fishing industry dries up, their businesses will, too. “It’s clear that if the fishing business weren’t here, they wouldn’t be here,” says Cobb, who supports her family business by serving as bookkeeper and crew cook. She also serves on the Pacific Marine Conservation Council, an industry group that pushes for sustainable fisheries.