Fishers Caught In Coronavirus Storm, Some Change Business Model While Others Sit It Out

Fishing boats sit idle at the Boston Fish Pier    Photo: John Tlumuacki, Boston Globe 

With many fishermen all around the U.S. forced to stop fishing due to restaurant closures and lack of tourism caused by the coronavirus, many are changing their businesses to sell directly to supermarkets and other retailers for home consumption.  Business with restaurants (which makes up 70% of the U.S. market) is down between 80% and 90%, while retail and home meal service business is up between 200% and 300%.  Congress, meanwhile, provided $300 million to help the fishing industry survive during the coronavirus shutdown, but the aid is taking too long to reach them.

Why This Matters:  Like family farms, in the U.S., family-owned and small fishing businesses almost all struggle to stay in business due to stiff competition from cheap imports, and that was before COVID -19 struck.  Now seafood supply chains have been disrupted globally and also in the U.S.  Imported seafood is not always sustainably harvested — fisheries management rules are looser or non-existent in many other countries.  “During this time of uncertainty, we can be certain that choosing healthy and fresh seafood caught in the United States for our next meal is a smart decision,” said Eric Schwaab, of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement.

Fisheries Need Stimulus Help

The Seafood Harvesters of American have written a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross today, Seafood Harvesters of America said the money should be “expeditiously disbursed” to save its industry, according to E&E News.”The industry has not, thus far, been made aware of any process NOAA is considering to allocate these funds despite repeated requests from industry stakeholders and members of Congress,” the organization said.

The Boston Globe reported that New England’s lobstermen, scallopers, and others who catch much of the $5.6 billion in commercial catches in the U.S. are facing “economic devastation, with many forced to tie up or store their boats in dry dock until the market rebounds.”  The Globe reported that even though they are considered essential workers, with no markets tso speak of to sell their fish to, many are choosing to stay home.   “No market equals no fishing,” said John Pappalardo, chief executive of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “Markets are disintegrating daily,” he told the Globe.  So far, NOAA officials have declined to state when the money would be distributed.

Sustainability Does Not Have To Be Sacrificed

An organization called Sea Pact, which is a group of 11 seafood distributors in the U.S. and Canada, is working to maintain progress on sustainability while meeting shifting consumer demand at an unprecedented moment.  Sea Pact’s members have been making more direct-to-consumer sales, home deliveries and even engaging in mail-order business to get seafood on peoples’ dinner tables while still guaranteeing that the fish was sustainably caught.  Sea Pact has also created a “b to b” marketplace selling to each other within Sea Pact, recognizing that some members will be short on some seafood products and some will have extra product. One New England fisher is washing and packaging 150,000 pounds of sea scallops a day through individual tunnel freezers, storing them for when the pandemic is over. But, according to The Post, he worries that when regular life resumes, a glut of scallops will mean tanking prices.

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