Fishing has a long and storied history in Newport. From its earliest days, people have come from all over the United States and beyond to catch the bounty swimming (or crawling) in the bay and off our shore. For more than 150 years, fishing has been critical to the coastal economy, providing food and employment for our community. Located at the mouth of the Yaquina and the Pacific Ocean, it’s not hard to understand how this industry became an essential piece of Newport’s past and present.
The area’s first inhabitants, the Yacona, thrived for generations on what they caught from the bay and ocean. However, once oysters were discovered in the Yaquina River by an exploring sea captain in 1861, the course of Newport’s history changed. Previously harvested by the Yacona, the oyster soon became a highly desired commodity by entrepreneurs out of San Francisco and was shipped south to feed the gold rush masses. Unfortunately, within a few years, the oysters were depleted (eventually, they were re-seeded with Japanese imports). The discovery of the oysters heightened interest in Newport's land and waters; not long after, the government opened up the Yaquina Bay area to white settlement.
Fishing in Earnest
Over the following decades, thousands of people settled in Newport, many of whom made their living by fishing. During the mid-1800s, salmon were abundant and commercial canneries opened along the bayfront. However, early in the 20th century, gasoline-powered boats and improvements to the harbor entrance enticed fishermen to cross the bar out to the ocean; this offered more fishery options and helped to increase their catch significantly.
Since then, local fishermen and women have been braving the seas and continuing to catch Chinook salmon, lingcod, albacore tuna, halibut, pink shrimp, groundfish, pacific whiting, and Dungeness crab. Although Newport is now known as the “Dungeness Crab Capital of the World,” crab was not as prized at the beginning of the 20th century as they are today. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a significant appetite developed, and this fishery started to grow. Now the Dungeness crab is considered the backbone of the fleet.
Not only does Newport’s fishing fleet play a critical part in the local and state economy, but it is also at the heart of the history of our town. To learn more about our fishing heritage, visit the Pacific Maritime Center directly across the street from the Port Dock 5 Pier. This beautiful museum is full of maritime exhibits and art and allows visitors to immerse themselves in Newport's maritime and fishing heritage.