Seafood processors respond to COVID-19 with added precautions

Risk management and best practices are key to ongoing effort to protect harvested wild Alaska seafood

Seafood industry processors say they are in ongoing discussions with local, state and federal partners, continuing to assess risks and implement best practices to abate the spread of the novel coronavirus behind the pandemic.

The seafood industry talking points including working around the clock on prevention and response, coordinating with partners that include public health officials, preventing the spread of COVID-19 within Alaska and keeping seafood safe, said Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association. The Seattle-based trade association represents six member companies who own and operate 16 U.S. flagged catcher/processor vessels participating principally in the Alaska Pollock fishery and West Coast Pacific whiting fishery. The group includes American Seafoods Co., Arctic Storm Management Group LLC, Coastal Villages Region Fund, Glacier Fish Company LLC, Aleutian Spray Fisheries Inc. and Trident Seafoods.

While their talking points for continued discussions are relatively the same, each company is situated differently and making individual decisions on how to deal with risks posed by the COVID-19 virus, Madsen said.

From the earliest days when word of the virus spreading rapidly through China, the processors have been working to minimize the impact of the public health threat on Alaskan fishing communities, fishing crews and processing workers.

In a related development, organizers of ComFish Alaska, an industry forum and trade show held annually each spring in Kodiak have postponed the event until mid-September. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meanwhile has cancelled its April meeting in Anchorage and was in discussion on which items to include in its agenda for the council’s upcoming Juneau meeting in Juneau. Updates are being posted online at npfmc.org.

Madsen said processors are working closely with public health officials in Alaska and Washington state, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Coast Guard on health and safety issues. That network plans to share with its membership guidelines on best practices for companies, vessels and plants throughout Alaska.

Seafood companies are also adopting screening and monitoring plans developed in conjunction with maritime health doctors to prevent anyone with a risk profile from traveling to fishing communities and preventing sick crew members from being placed in plants or on vessels.

Industry officials also emphasized that the CDC has noted there is no risk of contracting COVID-19 from any food, including seafood. Food safety is always of the utmost priority for their industry, they said.

More information on seafood safety and COVID-19 is online at seafoodsafetycovid19.wordpress.com.

The website notes that coronavirus itself is unrelated to seafood, and there is no evidence that food or food packaging have been associated with transmission of the virus.