Washington shellfish suppliers forced to downsize due to coronavirus

Published on
March 10, 2020

Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. and its surrounding areas have emerged as the epicenter of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak within the United States, with 136 of the country’s 545 reported cases reported there as of the morning of Sunday, 8 March, according to the Washington Department of Health.

The resulting public health crisis has led to a severe decline in seafood exports to China, where the virus originated late last year. Seattle Shellfish, which produces geoduck for export to China, has laid off more than 35 of 60 employees hired just two months ago in January.

In January, China closed its doors to imported seafood as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and U.S. and international airlines have stopped flying to China until the end of April at the earliest. With the virus slowing its march in China, there are hopes that demand may rise again moving into the summer months. However, demand in the United States for geoduck has also decreased.

“There is a long ways to go before things get better,” Seattle Shellfish President Jim Gibbons told The Seattle Times.

The coronavirus outbreak is viewed by many as the third in a series of unpredicted downturns with trading partners across the Pacific. Initially, the retaliatory tariffs imposed by Beijing as part of the trade war with the Trump administration caused seafood values to crater. In fall 2019, the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong resulted in a steep decrease in sales as well. And now, an epidemic threatens the seafood industry on both sides of the Pacific.

As a result of the downturn, Shelton, Washington-based Taylor Shellfish – one of the country’s largest shellfish companies – has had to lay off some 6 percent of its workforce of 700.

Washington state exports approximately USD 150 million (EUR 138.87 million) worth of seafood to China every year, according to the Washington Council on International Trade. American companies also send seafood to China for processing because labor is significantly cheaper.

Photo courtesy of iploydoy/Shutterstock

Reporting from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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