Fisherman’s Market – Eugene’s Link to the Ocean

This small and successful fish market depends on the health of the Ocean to stay afloat

By Myckyal Hunt

EUGENE, ORE – It’s just after 11 a.m. and Fisherman’s Market in Eugene, Oregon is already bustling.  Customers are

Fisherman's Market on 7th Avenue, in Eugene's Jefferson Westside Neighbors

occupying eight of ten tables, while waiting to be served “full-boat fish ‘n’ chips,” while others are lining up, ready to purchase raw fish to take home.  Ryan Rogers, the owner, has been in the market since 8 o’clock that morning – a full 3 hours before he opens for the day.

Every weekday, Rogers drops his kids off at school on the way to the market on 7th avenue, on the edge of Eugene’s Jefferson Westside Neighbors.  Fisherman’s Market has been serving Eugene fresh fish for almost 35 years.  The little blue building on the corner is dependable and welcoming.  “There are people I’ll see in here two or three times a week,” says Rogers, who explains that people prefer the Eugene fish market to places on the coast because it’s less expensive and more “quality conscious.”

Every morning, fish is cut and prepared and then loaded into the display case

Maintaining the trust he’s gained from customers takes work and dedication, which is why Rogers and a handful of employees arrive hours before they open the doors to the public.  Rogers comes to work, checks inventory, makes repairs and a pulls together a maintenance to-do list, and makes calls around Oregon to locate his “product” – just to make certain everything he needs is available.  The employees who come in early, who Rogers calls “The Morning Openers,” cut and prepare fish and set of the cases.  Always while keeping careful track of inventory.

Rogers, who began his career in commercial fishing in Alaska in 1983, knows the importance of keeping product available.  An issue he calls “resource management” – maintaining a healthy level of fishable sea creatures, and not over-fishing – is on the minds of commercial fisherman around the world.

Fisherman’s Market gets its supply of fish from a number of different places – in part because of the variety of fish the store sells and prepares.  At the front of the market is a tank, about 6 feet long and 4 feet tall, filled with crabs.  The displays neighboring the live-crab tank are set with smoked mussels, scallops, and even homemade crab cakes.  Each morning, Rogers makes calls to places like Newport, Astoria, and Charleston, and even tracks product from places as far as Indonesia and China.

Due to the nature of the profession, commercial fishing is a slave to natural disasters, changes in climate and weather, and human-induced disasters.  Because Rogers gets his supply of fish from around the world, the status of the oceans everywhere can have an affect on the business.

“Unfortunately, human nature is greedy,” says Rogers on the subject of over-fishing and resource management, “and fishermen are among the greediest.”

According to the website called “Global Greenhouse Warming” some commercial fishing ships can catch 1,000 tons of fish in a day.   Of course, the kinds of fishing boats that can handle that amount of fish are working on a much larger scale than Fisherman’s Market, but the fact remains that as long as fishing occurs – whether it’s thousands of tons a day, or just a ton a day – the ocean needs to be healthy enough to allow fish populations to regenerate.

In November 2006, a group of researchers released a report predicting that, if fishing around the world continues at its current rate, there could be a “global collapse” of fish species around the world.  The New York Times reported on the study and though there seem to be instances of overfishing in developing countries, fisheries in the United States aren’t following the same trend, quoting experts such as Steve Murawski of the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, saying only 20% of monitored stocks in the U.S. are overfished.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed the Marine Resources Program, which is based in Newport, Astoria, Brookings and Charleston, and staff are responsible for monitoring recreational and commercial fishing off the Oregon Coast.  The goal is the same in fisheries all over the U.S. and the world, to keep better tabs on the status of fishable sea animals.

Unfortunately though, overfishing isn’t the only factor that has an affect on the little Eugene fish market.

At the back of the market, behind the kitchen, are two large rooms.  One is the cooler and the other is the freezer, and both are about 20 feet by 25 feet.  At the end of the day, an employee, or sometimes Rogers himself, need to rotate and change around the fish to ensure continued freshness.  The doors to the freezer and cooler are steel and heavy, and yes, it is possible to get locked inside – an experience Rogers doesn’t want to repeat.

Fish are transported and kept in large totes, which look like big, green coolers.  The totes can hold up to a ton of fish and are insulated to allow for storage.  In order to keep fish fresh, they need to be rotated, and the totes need to be “re-iced,” which involves taking the fish out of one tote and switching them to another.  The process is lengthy, but nevertheless important – just as temperature is important to live fish.

The Earth’s oceans are being hugely affected by climate change.  Global Greenhouse Warning describes what happens as icecaps melt, sea-levels rise and temperatures of water increase.  Something scientists call “heat waves” are going to have the biggest affect on the ocean – heat waves occur in the low atmosphere and in the deep part of the ocean.  Rising sea levels and changes in water temperature are going to change the behaviors and patterns of fish in the sea too.

So far, fish are proving to be adaptable to the changes in the ocean, due to climate change.  Other changes in the ocean don’t lead to any amount of adaptability by fish; these changes are most often the result of human error.

During the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill of the late 80’s, Rogers was working in Price William Sound.  The tragic spill, which is currently considered to have had the worst environmental impact of any oil spill, directly affected Rogers’ ability to continue fishing, but gave him the opportunity to take part in the cleanup efforts.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t changing Rogers’ ability to fish, but it might make things difficult for acquiring some product for Fisherman’s Market.

In the displays at the front of the room – among the salmon, the halibut, and the crab – are oysters, and shrimp.  The fact that they are being displayed and sold is only significant because of where it’s from.  Besides Vietnam, Fisherman’s Market shrimp comes from Louisiana, the closest U.S. state to the oil spill. An article written for Market Watch reports that fishing in Louisiana generates $4 billion a year.  While the oil continues to gush into the gulf, almost all fishing in Louisiana has been banned, putting people out of work and having a sever impact on gulf shrimp distribution.

Rogers predicts that oyster prices are going to go way up, and he expects that shrimp may not be available at all in the coming months – forcing him to spend more money and work with a new producer.  The timing is bad too, every summer Rogers makes a trip to Prince William Sound to fish from June through late August.  When he’s away on his trip, the manager of Fisherman’s Market takes over his duties, something that took him a few years to feel comfortable with.  As his wife Debbie says, “He [Rogers] isn’t very good at delegating tasks.  He’s more a doer than an explainer.”

Running a full-scale non-coastal fish market may not be as hard as it sounds, but it doesn’t come difficulty free.  As with any career, new challenges present themselves daily, especially while working in an agricultural field.

“I consider myself one of the luckiest people you’ll ever meet,” says Rogers, “because I love my job … I have a great business, and I can leave for three months to do what I’m passionate about.”

Ryan Rogers – The Beginning

At the front of the fish market, Ryan Rogers is standing with a grin on his face and a large crab in his hand.  After 27 years in the business, the prospect of being pinched by a crab doesn’t seem to faze him.

Rogers first began fishing in Alaska, at Prince William Sound, when he was studying economics, or what he calls “the dismal science,” at the University of Oregon in 1983.  He eventually quit school and moved to Alaska permanently in order to be a full-time commercial fisherman.

Almost 15 years later, his friend Mike West (then owner of Lizza Restaurants and West Bros BBQ) gave him a call about going in together to by a fish market in Eugene – Rogers’ hometown.  Rogers had never even set foot inside Fisherman’s Market until he was going to buy it, he had no experience running his own business, and because West had so many side projects, he was in charge of the market from day one.

Running a business is hard work, even when you know what you’re doing.  Rogers’ wife Debbie had worked for Mattel and decided to come and help him with the market for the first few years.  Even when they had their first child – a son named Cole – Debbie helped her husband with the market, even though, as she says “It’s hard working for your husband!”

Learning how to run the market isn’t the toughest thing Rogers has had to deal with.  In August 2009, he sunk his boat Nahanni in Prince William Sound – and his now 13-year-old was with him.  The boat, which Rogers had owned for 20 years sunk after landing on a reef.  It was a tough experience for him, “it was kind of an extension of me,” he said.

Rogers finds success in other forms too.  Every week, he travels to Charleston to pick up rockfish, crab and other fish, and with rising gas prices driving his pick-up truck would get expensive.  Because of this, Rogers almost always drives using waste vegetable oil as fuel, which saves him a lot of money and makes use of something that would otherwise be wasted.

The effort Rogers puts into the business invites people to come back, including long-time customer Jeff Bemis, who has been coming into the market at least once a month for the last 15 years.  Bemis knew Fisherman’s Market before it included a restaurant, but that didn’t stop him from bringing his brother Charles from Iowa by to try the clam chowder.

“Excellent clam chowder,” Charles Bemis said, comparing it to chowder he tried in Charleston, “the other place had an award, but I don’t know, they may have printed them off themselves.”

On the Menu

When Ryan Rogers and Mike West took over Fisherman’s Market in late 1997, they decided to add a restaurant to sell fish and chips.  West, who owned other restaurants, soon developed special menu items, tartar sauces and dishes you won’t see anywhere else.  Fisherman’s Market though, as Rogers describes it, is “A fish market with a restaurant.”  Here are some menu items from the market.

Fish ‘n’ Chips Menu

When you come to Fisherman’s Market, expect selection.  If you want fish ‘n’ chips, you get a choice of 10 different kinds of freshly battered seafood, ranging from $6 dollars to $10.

Tradition Cod – $5.99

Mahi-Mahi – $6.99

Tilapia – $6.99

Calamari – $6.99

Wild Salmon – $7.49

Shrimp – $7.49

Clam Strips – $7.49

Bay Scallops – $7.99

Oysters –  $8.99

Halibut – $9.99

Tartar Sauces, Coleslaw, and other Sauces

Every order of fish ‘n’ chips comes with a side of one signature coleslaw and two tartar sauces

Bombay Bomber – yellow curry tartar

Ragin Cajun – spicy shrimp and green onions

Honey Poppy Seed Coleslow

House Specialties

Crab Louie – Ryan Rogers says “I’d like to think we’re the largest independent crab retailer in Oregon,” and with this house special you can pay $13.00 to try some of that fresh Dungeness crabmeat served over romaine lettuce, with tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion.

The restaurant portion of Fisherman's Market

About mikihunt

I'm a journalism student at the University of Oregon
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