Fishermen are looking at a reduced ocean salmon season this spring because of low salmon returns. But the industry is also hoping to buy time for seafood markets that are reeling from the impact of the coronavirus.
The industry has had to shift how it does business and many are still adapting as local restrictions due to the pandemic shutter usual seafood outlets.
The markets are slow now, but they may reinvent themselves, said Michael Burner, the deputy director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. “There is still a demand for seafood,” he said.
The council recently adopted ocean salmon season recommendations for commercial and recreational fishermen for most of the Pacific coast, which include “some very restrictive seasons,” according to Phil Anderson, the council’s chairman.
“Uncertainties associated with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on markets, angler effort and critical catch sampling, coupled with low Chinook and coho forecasts, made structuring the fisheries even more challenging this year,” he said in a statement.
Rather than have commercial fishermen use up allowed impacts to protected fish this spring, industry stakeholders asked the council to consider restricting fishing opportunities now when the pandemic has shut down many aspects of the economy and save those impacts for fishing in later months — like putting aside savings into a bank account, Burner said.
Commercial ocean salmon fisheries north of Cape Falcon, an area that includes the North Coast, will operate under reduced seasons in the spring for Chinook and summer for Chinook and coho. Fishermen have access to 27,640 Chinook, slightly up from last year, and a coho quota of only 2,000 — compared to last year’s 30,400.
There is the possibility some federally-managed salmon fisheries may close this year if there are public health concerns because of the coronavirus, or if information — like landings — that fishery managers need to administer a fishery is unavailable.
Stakeholders are still trying to understand how a federal aid package that includes some money for fisheries will help, and where. Meanwhile, the virus continues to have an impact on fisheries that were already in motion.
In mid-January, live buyers in the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery basically lost their export market to China, which had begun to report cases of the coronavirus in December, said Tim Novotny, a spokesman for the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Crabbers on small and medium-sized boats faced bad weather that kept most of them off the water during the season’s typical peak.
“By the time they finally started to get out, the market was already starting to feel the impact of not being able to unload a lot of live crab to China,” Novotny said.
The result: crab started to back up at processors.
“All of the sudden you’ve got this influx of crab that usually goes somewhere that’s not now,” Novotny said.
Restaurants and casinos — also significant buyers of crab — started to close their doors. Some processors stopped buying crab.
There has been a slight uptick in April, however, as businesses adjust and figure out different ways to deliver seafood to consumers.
“It’s nowhere near making up for how bad the season has been,” Novotny said. But it’s something “after weeks and weeks and weeks of kicking the can down the road, wondering where their money is going to come from.”