Pressed by coronavirus and falling oil prices, Alaska is running out of available cash
Anchorage Daily News by James Brooks - March 23, 2020
JUNEAU — Opening a legislative meeting Saturday morning, Sen. Natasha von Imhof began with a grim monologue.
“Alaska is experiencing a perfect storm. A most terrible trifecta. The hat trick from hell. We are being hit on all sides with the stock market crash, oil prices plummeting, and the tourism and fishing season all but idle,” she said.
2020 Alaska Fishing Season: How Other Ports and Fishing Organizations Face Similar Challenges
SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - March 20, 2020
In boardrooms across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, processors and harvester groups are facing unprecedented challenges about how to keep workers safe while harvesting millions of pounds of Alaska seafood this year. Those crucial decisions are being debated in other boardrooms around the world, and two groups have released their protocols in recent days.
For plant workers, the FFAW (Fish, Food, and Allied Workers) of Canada released a letter to members on March 17 outlining insurance measures and summarizing decision points that have not yet been made.
For vessels in transit, the North Sea Port issued measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, following similar measures by the Belgian and Dutch governments.
Of course Alaska’s situation is unique to any other in many ways, but the one with the most impact during this outbreak is that all seafood product is harvested and processed in remote areas, most without access to the road system and some without access to other critical infrastructure, such as hospitals.
While Alaska’s most remote fisheries start at the beginning of the year for pollock and cod and are processed on at-sea factory vessels, Trident’s Akutan plant -- the largest in the country and one that also processes from the Bering Sea trawl fleet -- has had to institute measures to keep its plant workers protected from contagion. The next season is Togiak herring, also harvested remotely, north of Bristol Bay and processed there and in Dutch Harbor. That season will be underway next month.
Herring is followed by salmon in the Copper River in mid-May, then west to Cook Inlet and Kodiak with Bristol Bay coming on line in early July. Salmon seining peaks in July and August in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska.
Bristol Bay, the state’s largest salmon return, is expecting a return of 48.95 million sockeye this year, with an estimated harvest of 34.56 million fish in Bristol Bay and 2.35 million fish in the South Peninsula fisheries. The return is 6% larger than the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay total runs and would normally be processed in a few weeks time.
The word "fluid" is perhaps the most common one to describe the hourly changes in the coronavirus updates. The processors and fishermen who work in Bristol Bay are well skilled at handling fluid situations -- every year they face something different in terms of where the salmon are going, when they get there, how the fleet may react to weather and other variables, and keeping plants and vessels humming. Fluidity is built in to everyone’s strategic business plan.
As they determine how best to react to not just logistics and protocols, but the current market situation and how that may change before July, here are how other areas around the world are coping with similar COVID-19 issues.
Canada’s largest food worker union, FFAW, has recommended that government extend Employment Insurance benefits, increasing the EI income replacement from 55% to 90%, do an immediate analysis of seafood markets and the impact on Newfoundland and Labrador seafood exports, and expand strategy for marketing of Newfoundland and Labrador seafood.
They’ve reached out to Newfoundland and Labrador Members of Parliament to ensure that workers who receive seasonal/fishing EI benefits are included in any new measures introduced by the federal government in the coming days.
“While there is no doubt that the fishing season will be impacted by this pandemic, the extent of the impact remains unclear as the situation evolves quickly, from day to day,” Keith Sullivan, FFAW President said.
“FFAW has been in communication with DFO regional managers and processing companies to outline our concerns about the impact of delayed openings to fisheries and processing plants and a lack of market access will have on the industry this year. These discussions are ongoing, and we will provide updates to our members as information becomes available.”
The North Sea Port measures include the following safeguards to mitigate spreading of the virus:
1. Sea going vessels announce their arrival no later than 24 hours in advance
2. The Harbour Master’s Offices remain within reach and are active at their posts as usual, but in limited numbers.
3. The Maritime Declaration of Health has to be filled in 24 hours before entering the port. From the moment that even only 1 question is answered with ‘yes’ on this form, the health service will be included directly.
4. (River) Cruise passengers in North Sea Port Ghent are to remain on board.
5. North Sea Port follows the advice issued by the WHO, the authorities and national official bodies.
6. Wherever possible, our staff is working from home and all meetings, trainings and gatherings that are not strictly necessary are cancelled. However, our workers can still be reached by email, skype or telephone.
7. Access to the Harbour Master’s Offices is limited. An alternative schedule and a continuity plan have been drawn up so as to continue the operation of the Harbour Master’s Office whenever this is possible and safe.
8. North Sea Port buildings are closed or have limited access
9. Events and activities are cancelled. The measures taken by North Sea Port imply among other things that various gatherings, tours by boat and events cannot take place or are postponed.
Already the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation have instituted changes and new protocols for visits to the hospital. The Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham, where COVID-19 patients would go, already has four reverse-pressure rooms, the gold standard for patients with highly contagious diseases. No known cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Dillingham yet.
“Testing is available,” Dr. Cathy Hyndman, the clinical director for BBAHC told KDLG recently.
“We can take the swabs in Dillingham and send them to Anchorage. But testing is still limited due to the number of test kits that are available here, and the number of test kits that are available around the state.”
Alaska and Massachusetts Senators Ask for Support for Fishing and Seafood Industry
SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - March 24, 2020
Washington, DC – As travel and work restrictions clamp down on coastal communities and fishing grounds in an effort to contain the corona virus, Senators from Alaska and Massachusetts sent a letter to Senate leadership calling for urgent support for the seafood and fishing industry.
Already hit hard by a near total shut down of foodservice across the nation, the nation’s fishing fleets and processing plants are facing a situation never before seen.
Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) in authoring the letter.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has caused restaurants across the United States to shutter, eliminating a key customer base for the fishing and seafood industries. Large export markets in virus-affected countries like China have also been disrupted,” the letter explained.
The bi-partisan group from the diverse states noted the fishing and seafood industries are essential drivers of the American economy, with $5.6 billion worth of fisheries products landed and $11.6 billion worth of fisheries products processed in 2018.
Given the vast amount of domestic seafood that is enjoyed in restaurants and exported to international markets, the closure of these markets has caused fishermen and seafood processors to face uniquely drastic economic impacts.
The letter suggests that the Senate can establish federal procurement programs for U.S. seafood products, federal fisheries disaster assistance funding, and the inclusion of support mechanisms for vessel loan payments assistance in any economy-wide coronavirus response package.
“As you work to draft economic relief packages to respond to the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we urge you to include support for the fishing industry, which is facing severe economic hardship as a result of the pandemic," the senators wrote.
In addition to domestic markets disappearing, large export markets in virus-affected countries like China have also been disrupted, they explained.
“Additionally, many fishermen are not eligible for unemployment benefits because they are self-employed. Congress must provide dedicated financial assistance to these vital industries to ensure that, when this crisis has passed, we still have a robust fishing economy,” they wrote.
“We also strongly support robust funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service in the regular appropriations process to ensure that the global pandemic does not compromise management of our nation’s fisheries.
“Without assistance, we face the real possibility of losing a significant portion of our fishing industry to economic challenges caused by COVID-19, and forever changing the character of our working waterfronts,” the senators wrote.
Sea Pact Sends Message of Unity and Support to Industry
SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - March 24, 2020
Sea Pact, a group of eleven influential North American seafood distributors who work together to drive industry sustainability progress, have a message for all sectors of the seafood industry.
"We recognize that this is a two-fold crisis --the health crisis that is the virus, and an economic crisis, with profound impacts of widespread closures and cancellations, disrupted supply chains, and escalating uncertainty about how long these turbulent times will continue and what shifts will become part of a new normal for us all," Rob Johnson, managing director.
"Every link in the food chain is being affected, and as seafood distribution companies in the middle of the supply chain, Sea Pact member businesses have the position and responsibility to support seafood producers, customers, each other and our communities," he added.
“It’s more important now than ever to come together as a unified seafood industry in all the ways that we can. Food supply is an essential service to maintain, but beyond the immediate challenges of this global health and economic crisis, the world needs a stable long-term supply of seafood protein that is good for people and good for the planet,” said Johnson.
Sea Pact member businesses have had to rapidly adjust business models and daily business decisions, in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. But they have done it by sharing challenges and opportunities with other Sea Pact members companies finding creative responses across multiple companies and geographies build new best practices.
“We have laid a strong foundation of trust from working closely together in noncrisis situations, and that ‘trust bank’ is allowing us to support each other’s ability to adapt our businesses and find and replicate creative solutions,” said Johnson.
“Our call to action is for all members of the seafood industry to work together now and maintain our responsibility to provide a critical healthy sustainable protein supply,” the association statement read.
“Sea Pact wants to ensure that the seafood industry and the people and communities it serves collectively get through this successfully, to not only survive, but thrive when the world emerges from this crisis.,” said Johnson.
Member companies are responding with seafood discounts and donations to employees and partners, direct to consumer sales and home deliveries, pivots from food service to retail, developing seafood boxes, and promoting public health and safety.
Sea Pact members are: Euclid Fish Company, Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Inland Seafood, Intercity Packers, Ipswich Shellfish Group, JJ McDonnell, North Atlantic Inc., Santa Monica Seafood, Seacore Seafood, Seattle Fish Co., and Stavis Seafoods.
Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Pacific Cod by Catcher Vessels Using Trawl Gear in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area
A Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 03/23/2020
NMFS is prohibiting directed fishing for Pacific cod by catcher vessels using trawl gear in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area (BSAI). This action is necessary to prevent exceeding the B season apportionment of the 2020 Pacific cod total allowable catch allocated to catcher vessels using trawl gear in the BSAI.
Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Pollock in Statistical Area 620 in the Gulf of Alaska
A Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 03/23/2020
NMFS is prohibiting directed fishing for pollock in Statistical Area 620 in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). This action is necessary to prevent exceeding the B season allowance of the 2020 total allowable catch of pollock for Statistical Area 620 in the GOA.
Commentary: Coronavirus relief package has become singular legislative focus
Cordova Times by Rep. Louise Stutes - March 20, 2020
An illustration of the structure of a coronavirus. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With the outbreak of COVID-19 in Alaska, we are facing a serious public health emergency that is affecting every aspect of life and sector of our economy. I know a lot of you are looking for answers to questions that are critical to your family’s health, safety, and economic well-being. As such, I wanted to update you on what we know and how we are responding to this crisis.
Pacific Seafood Processors Association
1900 W Emerson Place Suite 205, Seattle, WA 98119
E-mail: email@example.com; Website: www.pspafish.net
Our office days/hours are Monday-Friday
8:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
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