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Michael Dautner
June 09, 2020

Pacific Northwest Seafood Industry Fear Catastrophic COVID-19 Outbreaks

pacific northwest

As we’ve already seen in the meat industry within the United States, the seafood industry is now also wary of the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak specifically in the Pacific Northwest region. In response, seafood traders, processors and catchers in the Pacific Northwest have drafted rigorous plans to ward off similar spreading of COVID-19. This task is a lot easier said than done when you consider the closeness in proximity processors work within their workstations. As the summer season begins, the seafood industry has been adversely affected by its first major outbreak found aboard a massive vessel that also serves as an onboard processing factory. This week, Seattle-based American Seafoods disclosed that approximately 9 members of the crew from the American Dynasty ship had tested positive for Coronavirus, which translates to about 3/4ths of the entire ship.

This came as a complete shock to the company who claimed to have gone above and beyond to avoid an outbreak of this nature. According to the director of United Catcher Boats, Brent Paine, “Each company had worked so hard to try to avoid this (the outbreak) from happening.” Clearly their precautions and preventive measures were no match for the contagiousness of the COVID-19 virus. This particular trade group has toiled in the pollock and cod market off the coast of Alaska, and another type of whitefish known as hake off the coast of Washington and Oregon states. The fishermen in this region have made it known in recent weeks how hard they have had to work in order to stay afloat amidst potential and actual COVID-19 outbreaks.

The crisis surrounding the global pandemic had even sparked whispers about cancelling the entire fishing season in Alaska, however the state elected to install a new range of safety measures in order to resume the fishing season uninterrupted. Threat of the spreading of COVID-19 is elevated in Alaska due to the majority of fishermen traveling from out of state for seasonal work within the largest salmon fishery in the world.

Although American Seafoods maintains that it indeed tested workers before they were allowed onboard for the hake fishery, the resulting outbreak begs to differ. In fact, it was revealed that its minimum advance quarantine was a mere five days, nine days short of the recommended fourteen-day quarantine period. This obviously raised the eyebrows of industry observers and medical experts. The experts argue that just as it can take nearly fourteen days for infected people to show COVID symptoms, it can also take the same amount of time for the virus to show up in a proper test according to Geoffrey Gottlieb, an infectious disease physician at the University of Washington Medical Center.

According to Gottlieb, with a five-day quarantine “…you might get away with it some of the time,” he says. “But if enough boats or enough industries are doing this kind of thing, it’s certainly likely that at some point that strategy is not going to work.”

Clearly the Pacific Northwest is facing tough times ahead as long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. The Global Seafood community has borne the burden of the virus, but with the beginning of the summer season, states like Alaska, Oregon and Washington are feeling the strain more than ever.

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