State overrules Wrangell, says it can’t add its own COVID-19 restrictions
KSTK by June Leffler - Apr 10, 2020
Wrangell’s proposed restrictions on people arriving to the island community have been shelved after the state said the Southeast city doesn’t have the authority. City leaders had wanted to coordinate the flow of commercial fishermen and fish plant workers expected to arrive for the season.
Three tribes join in asking governor to consider closing fishery, as processors lay out safety plans
KDLG by Isabelle Ross - April 10, 2020
The Naknek Native Village Council, the South Naknek Village Council, and the King Salmon Tribe have joined Dillingham city and tribe in a call for the governor to put extreme protective measures in place or consider closing the world’s most valuable and productive sockeye salmon fishery.
Alaska Fisheries Report — April 9, 2020
KMXT by Kavitha George - April 9, 2020
Like other industries in the U.S., Alaska’s commercial fishermen are taking a wallop from the COVID-19 pandemic. This week we look at some of the issues and concerns fishermen, processors, and fishing communities face as they navigate the ever-changing, never-before-travelled rough seas of rules and regulations.
Alaska Has Lowest COVID-19 Numbers, But What Happens When Salmon Season Starts?
SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - April 13, 2020
With only 272 cases of COVID-19, Alaska has the lowest numbers of cases of any other state in the U.S. It has less than half that of Hawaii, another state protected by geographic isolation. Alaska's low numbers are due in larger part, though, to early health and travel mandates by Governor Dunleavy, and daily updates by the state’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, including a broadcast on Easter Sunday.
Despite that, Alaska's curve is still in an upward trajectory, with 15 new cases announced yesterday and 11 new cases on Saturday. So far there are no cases in Bristol Bay, Kodiak, Cordova, or Sitka, all fishing communities with processing plants, deep water harbors, and airports.
In a normal year mid-April would be a time when Cordova starts getting ready for the mid-May opener, with vessels and gear being worked on in the harbor while plant managers ready the lines for a 24/7 work week all summer. Instead, Emergency Incident Command teams have been quickly put together to work with state and local authorities and prepare local hospitals, schools, airports and harbor workers for an influx of Outside fishermen and processors.
Unlike Bristol Bay, Cordova, Kodiak and Sitka have fleets made up of a higher number of Alaska residents and plant workers. But all have varying degrees of workers coming in from elsewhere.
In Cordova, with about 2,500 year-round residents, no road connection, an airport with two flights a day (one going north and one going south), and a hospital without any ICU beds, some residents have called on officials to restrict travel as the best way to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
More than 400 people have signed a petition calling on Mayor Clay Koplin to restrict all travel into the town except for medical personnel, law enforcement, child protective services and cargo, as reported by ADN.com.
Last week the city council was asked to give full authority to the medical team within the Emergency Incident Command to approve or amend the mitigation plans submitted by processing companies.
"We want a process in place that require the medical team to be able to say "this is not adequate; this is what you need to do befoe you bring your workforce here," said Dr. Hannah Sanders, a local physician on the EIC. The council agreed to have the lawyers at the local and state level, including the state’s Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, weigh in. Another emergency council meeting has been called for later today.
“I do not believe there is a way to safely triple the size of the population without significant morbidity and mortality to the people in Cordova from the COVID-19 virus,” Sanders told ADN.com.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game have projected an estimated catch for the commercial fleets this year of 771,000 sockeye and 36,000 Chinook. The state is requiring any workers arriving in Alaska, including those involved in fisheries, to self-quarantine for 14 days. There is little enforcement available to monitor each of the several hundred plant workers and fishermen who would be self-quarantining in Cordova.
The issues are many and complicated but the discussion comes to a point at hospitals, which in many coastal communities are not prepared to handle a virus as contagious as COVID-19. All resources would quickly be used to deal with spread of the virus, leaving other health needs unanswered.
Dunleavy addressed the dilemma of towns like Cordova at a briefing Friday, saying that smaller communities with hospitals present “a bit of an issue because we have to keep those hospitals open and we have to be able to get in and out of these small communities, potentially to use these hospitals,” according to the ADN report.
”A place like Cordova with their hospital, we still need to get in and out, so it cannot at this stage of the game be closed off, as some may want," Dunleavy said.
WEighing on many resident's minds is foregoing a major part of their income this year. These are concerns of the processing sector as well, which contributes millions of dollars in fish tax to Alaska's annual budget. Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin told ADN that economic concerns are “about fourth on the list in our emergency plan,” behind safety of lives, public health and environmental considerations.
“But that doesn’t mean you throw it out the window,” he said. Koplin acknowledged what members of the seafood industry have been aware of for months -- traditional markets for fresh seafood were hit hardest by the pandemic and more shelf-stable products may be needed this year.
The most critical decisions are not what the price or product form will be, but if and perhaps when there will be a fishery this year.
The Sitka Sentinel reported last Friday that concerns about the planned arrival of some 450 seasonal workers triggered a letter from Sitka’s Dr. Elliot Bruhl, vice president and chief medical director of Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) to Dunleavy and other state and local leaders.
“At this time, SEARHC believes that the possible effects of 450 travelers to the City and Borough of Sitka could be catastrophic. We do not believe this is a risk that the State of Alaska should allow at this time without significant changes to the plan of mitigation,” Bruhl wrote, as reported in the Sentinel.
Bruhl is focusing on the same issue that Sanders in Cordova is concerned about: the state-mandated plan for how processing companies will create protocols and change operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in remote coastal communities. Sitka’s Silver Bay Seafoods plans to fly 450 seasonal workers from out of state to work in their plant.
"I have reviewed their mitigation plan in detail, and while it may appear reasonable, in its present form, it is contradictory to medical reason, Specifically, these workers can't travel to Alaska without traveling through areas with high levels of COVID-19. It is naive to believe that all 450 of their workers will self-quarantine for 14 days before embarking for Alaska. It is unrealistic to plan quarantine for 14 days after arrival in a bunkhouse due to shared sleeping quarters,” he told the Sitka Sentinel.
"The medical reality is that despite best efforts, if this plan is enacted, the virus will come to Sitka and spread to these workers and the community, creating a strain on limited medical resources intended for the entire region."
Bruhl brought up an idea that has also be discussed in Cordova -- using resident workers who may have been laid off from other jobs due to health mandates but could be enlisted to work in the plants or on boats.
"There is a potential workforce available in the community to fill the needs of the employer," Bruhl told the Sitka Sentinel.
Silver Bay Seafoods president and CEO Cora Campbell, who is from Southeast Alaska and has commercial fished with her family for decades, issued this statement:
"We care deeply about the health, safety, and economy of this community - Sitka is home for this company. From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic we have been engaging with health care professionals, community and government officials, and seafood industry representatives to build extensive plans focused on protecting communities and our workforce from COVID-19.
"We believe Dr. Bruhl's letter is based on a preliminary early draft plan outlining minimum measures we saw as being immediately available to cover any critical travel needs for Silver Bay staff statewide. We are currently working to improve the initial plan in light of information and resources that have subsequently become available, and we will have a final plan in place prior to movement of any processing workers into the community of Sitka.
"It will be consistent with, and will often exceed, the guidance and mandates issued by the State of Alaska and CDC. Due to the extremely fluid situation with the virus, testing availability, and a number of other factors, we plan to continue to develop and revise our procedures over the next several months before salmon season begins. Our plans are public and we welcome dialogue and review with the state officials and local leaders.”
The processing companies have been working around the clock to accommodate a rapidly changing landscape for what can and cannot be done to have the fish caught and processed.
Meanwhile, the other influx of people into the 49th State appears to be nudging along despite a federal “no sail” order. Alaska Public Media reported over the weekend that Carnival Cruise Line is offering a 7-day sailing through Southeast Alaska in early July. That was news to Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata, whose small town is virtually shut down in hopes of avoiding a spike in coronavirus cases.
“I would hope that Carnival Cruise Lines reaches out to us in this community before they set sail,” Cremata said.
Ports in Seattle and throughout British Columbia remain closed to cruise ships.
Seafood companies step up to help COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts
Seafood Source by Cliff White - April 13, 2020
Seafood companies across the United States have stepped up with donations of food, personal protective equipment, soap, and other items in response to the coronavirus crisis that is gripping the nation.
Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2020 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2019 Season Published
ADF&G - April 13, 2020
(Juneau) — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) announces publication of the statewide report: Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2020 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2019 Season (PDF 1,675 kB).
Winding Glass: Pandemic Spreads Uncertainty in All Directions for Seafood Sector
SeafoodNews by John Sackton - April 14, 2020
[The Winding Glass is the opinion and commentary column by John Sackton, Founder of SeafoodNews.]
It is now nearly 11 weeks since I first wrote “could the economic impact of the coronavirus tip the US and the rest of the world into recession” in this column. At issue then was price stability and a potential fall in demand.
Since then, the impact of the largest global pandemic since 1918 has devastated health, economies, and production. The US now has the highest number of cases and deaths in the world.
For the seafood sector, our thinking has evolved.
First, the concern was over inventories that suddenly ballooned as travel and tourism was shut down. Then in February we asked “Imagine how American consumers might react should a local cluster in the U.S. require a quarantine.”
That column focused on the hit to foodservice, comparing it to the financial crash in 2008.
By mid-March the issue was how to address a market collapse as customers shut down. Could fisheries that had short term seasons, but were sold year round, operate successfully with the market uncertainty.
By April, it had become a question of survival. Would government assistance tide companies over? Could harvesters and processors reach agreements to limit production.
This week, uncertainty is mounting in practically every direction. However, it is increasingly clear that areas with divided leadership or weak and uncertain crisis management are suffering more.
Here is a quick roundup:
Pricing: Many seafood items have not had rapid changes in price, even as the supply chain behind them was convulsing. What initially looked like oversupply for some products could quickly transform into shortage. This is most evident in shrimp, where importers brought in record amounts to the US in the first quarter, but fear that disruptions in India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Ecuador will have potential major impacts on production going forward. There is no visibility into what is happening in ponds. Six months from now, shrimp supplies could be very tight, or not. We just don't know.
The key point is that in seafood many items can swing from over-production to shortage almost overnight, as conditions change. Right now, those with snow crab and frozen lobster inventories still have room to make some sales. It is possible that lack of production will mean these items remain near their current price ranges, despite the 70% drop in demand.
Production: The focus has shifted from the question of what are we going to sell to whether we can produce at all. In a number of food plants, outbreaks of infection have shut down all operations.
Some examples include the Smithfield Pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The plant now has a cluster of over 350 infections, the community is in total disarray, and the mayor is pleading with a recalcitrant governor to declare a mandatory stay at home order. This is likely too late. The community is becoming one of the rural hotspots in the US, and the plant will probably remain closed for the foreseeable future until the situation has gotten back under control.
Another example is in New Brunswick. The E. Gagnon plant, which with 400 workers during the snow crab and lobster seasons, started out during the first opening in Quebec with only 80 workers. However, a cluster of more than six infections quickly developed, and then there were infections on a crab boat. The plant had hoped to close for a temporary period, but the virus got ahead of them and they remain closed after two weeks.
In Chile, Blumar was ordered to quarantine 250 workers for 14 days after an outbreak, and much of the industry is operating at about 50% of capacity.
In New Bedford, workers at many plants have begun protesting the lack of safe working conditions, and they have been rebuffed, with some companies telling them to go talk to their employment contractors. In New Bedford, employment contractors provide most of the plant workers, who are not direct employees of the processing companies. Lack of protective gear, sanitizers and accommodation to slower work flow with social distancing is likely to produce a reaction, both in the plants and in the community. The lack of a united response is a real weakness. The processors must develop a unified way to address these concerns, or face escalating disruption.
In Cordova, Alaska, the Copper River season appears set to go, with only a short time remaining before workers who will need to sit through a 14 day quarantine begin to show up in the community. There is great tension around the influx of workers into a community with limited health resources.
On the West Coast, there is an unbelievable standoff where NOAA is insisting on observers on small boats where social distancing is impossible, unlike other parts of the country where observer requirements have been waived.
In PEI, it is now evident that the number of foreign workers needed for lobster processing won’t be available. This has led a widespread regional coalition in Atlantic Canada, including the MFU and many other lobster associations to call on the government to delay the May 1st start by at least two weeks, or possibly cancel the season altogether.
Plant operators, already facing huge cost increases and uncertain markets, cannot afford the uncertainty of opening for two weeks, and then being shut down again if infections spiral out of control. Yet the most likely places for this to happen is where there is divided leadership and no clear plans in place, as happened in Sioux Falls.
Biologically salmon and shellfish seasons do not wait on planning. Yet the influx of work to fish processing plants in Canada and Alaska is like a giant experiment in whether it is possible to operate at all in a climate of great uncertainty around the virus.
The reason is that the normal tools that might be used to mitigate risk simply are not available. Even temperature checks aren’t always reliable, as asymptomatic individuals can easily spread the infection. The absence of reliable tests has meant that only social isolation can slow the spread; yet factories cannot operate with social isolation.
The likely result is that there will be numerous failures of control, and some plants will be forced to halt operations intermittently. This means we have no idea how much fish and shellfish will be produced this season, and we don’t know the value.
Processors are trying as hard as they can to set up operations that work; but they cannot do it alone. They need the cooperation of governments and communities, and where there is a common purpose there is more likely to be success.
Where there is fear, suspicion and mistrust, it will be far harder to operate successfully.
Unfortunately, today those successes seem few and hard to come by.
However there are some good examples of cooperation. One is the group of lobster harvesters and processors who are making a concerted effort to force Ottawa to come up with a real plan for their industry, especially those who fish for the processing industry. This includes a plan for the financial support necessary. So far, Ottawa has resisted a unified approach, instead leaving things up to local fishing areas. This is a recipe for disaster, as once one area is fishing, others feel they have to go ahead regardless of the cost and risk. At this point, it will be up to Ottawa to respond to this display of unity by the industry.
In Alaska, processors have been proactive in addressing the concerns in Bristol Bay, and pledging to keep workers separate and manage their own demand on resources, including health resources. What happens in Cordova will likely have an impact on Bristol Bay. If Cordova packers and fishermen can manage a safe start to the season without a spike in infections, this may offer some reassurance. But if not, there will be strong pressure to limit exposure elsewhere in Alaska. Once again, it is cooperation and leadership that will likely determine any success.
Cooperation means that both the plants and the communities have a clear understanding of first, the mitigation measures put in place to ensure safe working conditions, and secondly, the emergency response measures to take should an outbreak occur. Having agreement, transparancy, and committment to these plans by all parties can keep small problems from escalating into community crisises.
Success is defined as operating in a manner that does not create clusters of new infections where there is no reliable method for testing or treatment except to shut down activity. At this point we cannot say how much success we may have with operations in rural communities this year.
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