Commentary: How prepared is Cordova, really?

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell heavily infected with coronavirus particles, isolated from a patient sample. (May 19, 2020) Photo courtesy of NIAID

By Mark Roye
For The Cordova Times

Vicious attacks on so-called social media directed toward those of our community that have been working assiduously to assure that our community is spared as much as possible the effects of COVID-19 are not only dishonorable, but directly counter-productive.

No one is seeking to shut down any fishery. Completely to the contrary, these efforts are directed not only at protecting the health of the community, but protecting the fisheries and conducting them safely and ensuring the economic wellbeing of the town and all of its businesses.

Cordova gets only one chance to get all of this exactly right. There is no room for error. Should an outbreak of COVID-19 strike either the fleet or any of the processors, not only regulators, but market forces will act quickly to effectively close down not only the fishery, but other affected businesses as well. The closure of numerous meatpacking plants across the nation, as well as a fish processing facility in Astoria, Oregon should leave little doubt about this compelling reality.

It’s all well and good for the city to enact policies, or for processors to file paper plans, but without implementation or enforcement that’s all they are — so much paper.

There have already been numerous reported positive cases in the state’s critically important seafood industry. Recent positive tests in Cordova and Dillingham have been hailed by some as proof that the plans are working. This is only partly true. In the Cordova case, the individual was to have been adequately tested before departure from Seattle. In the Dillingham case the worker was to have been quarantined in Anchorage and transported to Dillingham by chartered plane only afterward. Instead he flew to town on a commercial flight, and was quarantined locally along with several others. They must all now repeat that process. In both cases the processors’ plans had not been adequately implemented. Fortunately, both instances were detected before the disease took hold within the confines of a crowded work or bunkhouse environment. It is precisely for this reason that Dillingham has now passed an ordinance requiring a negative test before anyone can be released from quarantine.

Far more than the Copper River gillnet fishery is at stake here. Should an outbreak occur within one or more canneries, it is likely that a full closure would result, either imposed by health officials, or by the refusal of workers to continue to be exposed to such danger. That would in turn gravely imperil the far more extensive — and lucrative — seine fishery soon to follow. Were this to happen, every merchant, tradesman, service provider or supplier in town would suffer devastating economic consequences. This must be avoided at all costs.

Instead of attacking those working hard to assure that this does not happen, we all should be doing everything within our power to achieve this same end. Numerous recent reports of processor workers wandering about town despite cannery plans, boats closely rafted together despite the need for social distancing, or refusals to wear masks, must not be seen as an expression of personal freedom but as a breach of the duty we all owe to each other to do all in our power to assure that this season can be conducted safely and productively.

If you’re not concerned about your own health, or that of others, perhaps you should think only of your wallet. If we don’t get it right and we have an outbreak, processors will be shut down, fisheries will be forced to close as a consequence, and merchants will be economically devastated. This is not a political matter, but purely one of epidemiology and market economics. It’s up to all of us to assure a successful outcome.


Mark Roye is a Cordova-based retired fisherman who also served as the supervising attorney for the Bethel Regional Office of Alaska Legal Services.