Bering Sea commercial fleets taking extra precautions during pandemic

Published on
April 15, 2020

Commercial fishermen who have embarked on the Bering Sea for the 2020 season are taking extra precautions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has moved much of the world into isolation.

According to a report from The Bristol Bay Times, Bering Sea snow crabbers who are still out working the waters have been confined to their boats while making deliveries to processing plants. They’ve also been urged to avoid contact with plant workers to help prevent any potential spread of the deadly virus, the Intercooperative Exchange’s Jake Jacobson told The Times.

Crew members have been directed to stay in their living quarters while plant workers board their boats to unload catch and transfer it to a given facility, Jacobson said.

Thirty-four boats out of the regional snow crab fleet’s 59 were still out fishing as of 30 March, according to Ethan Nichols of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska. As of the end of March, the season was 79 percent to completion, with 7.2 million pounds left in the quota, Nichols said, noting that the average catch per pot was 142 of the smaller snow crabs, or opies.

Meanwhile, retreating sea ice has spurred an uptick in fishing on the grounds, Jacobson said.

"The sea ice has retreated, and the fishing has gotten a lot better," he told the newspaper from Seattle.

Frank Kelty, Unalaska's fisheries lobbyist and former mayor, noted that ice has created “spotty” fishing. Now a resident of Southern California, Kelty said that Los Angeles is bracing for major impacts from the coronavirus pandemic in the coming week.

"We're hunkered down," Kelty told The Times.

Unalaska’s halibut fleet, which mainly sells to foodservice, is having its economic viability challenged in the face of the outbreak, according to Josh Trosvig, owner of two vessels, Cynosure and Cerulean.

"This may be our first and only fishing trip," he said. "The price of halibut is tanking."

Amid the pandemic, which has forced many restaurants to temporarily close their doors, halibut prices are expected to plummet from the current posted price of USD 4.30 (EUR 3.93) per pound, Trosvig said.

"Halibut's a restaurant fish," Trosvig added, pointing out that the species consumers are cooking from home now are Pacific cod and tilapia. “They're not buying the premium product now."

When crew members fly in to Unalaska from Washington state, they're confined to the boat for 14 days, Trosvig said, to adhere to self-quarantine protocols currently in place in the region. Currently, a big worry among fishers is that one infected worker at a processing plant could shut down entire operations, leaving nowhere for fishermen to offload their fish, Trosvig said.

Photo courtesy of Vintagepix/Shutterstock

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