Seafood companies step up to help COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts

Published on
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.

Sealaska, Bumble Bee, Tampa Bay Fisheries, Handy Seafood, Verlasso, and Diversified Communications are just a few companies in the seafood industry that have made efforts to help their communities in the ongoing health crisis that has killed more than 20,400 citizens, sickened half-a-million, and left practically the entire country with limited access to food and other necessities of life.

Juneau, Alaska, U.S.A.-based Sealaska Corporation, which owns frozen seafood supplier and processor Odyssey and Orca Bay Seafoods, which processes and distributes both domestic and imported seafood products, is donating USD 1 million (EUR 915,961) to bolster the efforts of Alaska Native communities respond to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

“Several of the organizations being funded support Alaska Native Elders and youth at a time when they are most vulnerable,” according to the company. “Although special relief initiatives are rolling out from federal and local governments, Sealaska is looking to provide immediate support for shareholders who are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of the crisis.”

Of the donation, around USD 500,000 (EUR 457,930) has already been disbursed to federally recognized tribes in Southeast Alaska, as well as non-profit organizations in Alaska and Washington state, including the United Way of Southeast Alaska, the Blood Bank of Alaska, Seattle Indian Health Board, and the Chief Seattle Club. The remainder will be deployed in coming months to organizations in Southeast Alaska, Anchorage, and Seattle to help with long-term rebuilding efforts after the worst of the virus’ initial health impact is past, the company said.

The donation “bolsters the efforts of tribes throughout Southeast Alaska and other nonprofits across the state and in the Seattle area that are working to meet emergency needs,” according to Sealaska.

"The board felt strongly that we needed to move – and move quickly – to help our shareholder families and neighbors,” Sealaska Finance Committee Chair Morgan Howard said. “None of us know what the greatest needs will be in the future. So, in order to be strategic and nimble we are moving resources to local organizations that know how to prevent the most vulnerable people from falling through the gaps.”

Aside from its donation, Sealaska has also established a partnership with the Juneau School District to ensure the students who rely on school meals have access to food, despite the fact that classes have been canceled for the remainder of the school year.

"Sealaska has a unique opportunity to help our communities during a time of great need," Sealaska Board Chair Joe Nelson said. "We will do our best to direct these resources to organizations and people working courageously on the front lines. We understand all too well that our relatives are over-represented in vulnerable populations during normal times. We will get through this crisis together."

On 9 April, Bumble Bee Seafood also announced a USD 1 million (EUR 917,000) in-kind donation of its shelf-stable seafood to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks. The donations will go to Feeding San Diego, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey – each located in communities where the company continues to operate daily, according to Bumble Bee President and CEO Jan Tharp.

“We are a people-first organization and that’s why it is so important for us to give back to the communities in which we do business,” Tharp said. “It is our sincere hope that our product donations will mean that people in need will gain access to a nutritious and delicious ocean-inspired meal that they may not have otherwise had access to during this time.”

In addition, Bumble Bee has allocated an additional USD 1.2 million (EUR 1.1 million) in increased hourly wages for its factory workers “who are playing a critical role in producing products to feed families across the country.” The company has increased the availability and use of personal protective equipment for its factory employees instituted mandatory temperature screenings for everyone entering their plants. Bumble Bee has seen increased sales of its canned and pouched tuna as U.S. consumers seek out non-perishable food items and Tharp said the company has ramped up production, expanded its sourcing efforts, and narrowed its focus to deliver its most in-demand products.

“We have an incredibly dedicated and talented employee base worldwide that is reflective of the epitome of what this company stands for and believes in,” Tharp said. “There is so much uncertainty in the world right now and we know people are counting on the food industry to come through. At Bumble Bee, we’re taking our role and responsibility seriously.”

In Dover, Florida, value-added seafood company Tampa Bay Fisheries has donated 40,000 surgical masks and 75,000 nitrile gloves for use by local first responders and medical personnel, according to chief operations officer Dow-Yung Kou.

“The community that has served us and afforded us the ability to thrive over these years is now in need of our assistance,” Kou said. “Now more than ever, we must all do our part in supporting one another in every way we can. We hope that our donation will help those who have protected our community.”

Tampa Bay Fisheries CEO Danny Woodson said the company is continuing to produce foods for retail and is currently hiring. He said the company has committed to providing all employees with surgical masks and conducting temperature checks on all employees daily upon arrival at work.

“Our role in this pandemic is to keep food on America’s tables. My heroes are our 600 employees working to feed America, and all other critical infrastructure employees putting their health at risk for the greater good of our country,” Woodson said. “Our team understands our responsibility and what is being asked of them in this difficult time. I am very proud to work with this team and realize what it means to do our part. We are continuing to hire and hope anyone that needs work will come join our team and keep food moving to fill the grocery shelves.”

Another seafood firm donating product to locals in need include AquaChile’s Verlasso, which donated 5,000 pounds of salmon to Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in New York and 2,500 pounds of salmon to Staff Meal in Dallas.

“[We] are planning to expand their donations to various organizations in need across the United States,” Verlasso Marketing Manager Kathy Liz told SeafoodSource.

Salisbury, Maryland-based Handy Seafood teamed up with chicken producer Mountaire Farms to give away hundreds of bags full of frozen chicken, crab, and other seafood in late March, and Handy Seafood Director of Operations Jeff Middleton said the company planned on further food donations in the future.

“It’s a really big time of need,” Middleton told ABC 47, the local ABC affiliate. “Everybody knows what’s going on in the world today and truly we want to be part of the family.”

In Portland, Maine, Diversified Communications, which organizes Seafood Expo North America – originally scheduled for March but postponed until September – donated dozens of bottles of hand sanitizer slated to be used at the event to Maine Medical Center, a local hospital currently treating patients that have tested positive for COVID-19. [Editor’s note: Diversified Communications also owns and operates SeafoodSource.]

“We just feel really great that we have some way of giving back to our community here,” Diversified Communications Corporate Vice President for Human Resources Janice Rogers told WGME-TV, a CBS-affiliated television station. “We didn’t feel right not using it and we want to make sure that people who are on the front line fighting this virus have the supplies they need.”

Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Fisheries

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