Seafood Market Facing COVID-19 Outbreaks, Too

A recent NPR article explains how the meatpacking industry is not the only food industry facing COVID outbreaks. The seafood industry in the Pacific Northwest in particular had 92 of its employees on one ship fall ill.

A few weeks ago, Pacific Northwest seafood companies drafted rigorous plans to protect employees against COVID-19, given that workers often work in close quarters. One NPR article details the industry’s first major outbreak onboard a huge vessel with an onboard fish processing factory.

This week, Seattle-based American Seafoods confirmed that 92 crew from its American Dynasty ship had tested positive for COVID-19, nearly three-fourths of the 126 people onboard.

“It was like, ‘Wow, I can't believe this.’ We had done so much. Each company had worked so hard to try to avoid this happening,” says Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats.

The trade group’s members fish for pollock and cod off Alaska, and another whitefish called hake off Washington and Oregon. This month is the start of the industry’s busy season, and workers have been working incredibly hard to keep up with industry demands. “None of us have ever worked so hard in our lives than we have in the last two months, without a doubt,” said Paine.

In Alaska, there has been other COVID-19 cases among seafood workers where thousands have traveled from out of state for the world’s largest salmon fishery.

The American Dynasty, which is 30 feet shorter than a football field, had been fishing for hake before coming into port in Washington. A crew member reported feeling sick, then was taken ashore and tested positive for COVID-19, American Seafoods said in a statement.

The next day, the company reported at least 85 more cases. Late Thursday evening, county health officials elsewhere in Washington reported that 25 crew members on two other American Seafoods vessels had also tested positive for COVID-19.

American Seafoods even tested its workers before they were allowed onboard for the hake fishery, but its minimum advance quarantine was only five days. It is understood that the virus can take anywhere from 7 to 14 days to incubate and cause a person to show symptoms.

This situation has raised concerns among other officials in the industry, noting that if five days quarantine could still mean an outbreak, they might have to really reconsider their safety protocols for workers.

An American Seafoods spokeswoman, Suzanne Lagoni, says the company has since lengthened its required quarantine to 14 days.

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