the seafood industry is bracing for one like none they’ve seen before, in addition to the huge expense required to keep the fishery safe during a pandemic.
Alaska health officials this past week laid out yet another mandate for upcoming commercial salmon fisheries, designed to keep harvesters, processors and coastal communities safe from the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Health mandate 17 covers the conduct of all independent harvesters coming into Alaska’s salmon fisheries aboard independent commercial fishing vessels or arriving to join them in coastal communities.
As of April 29, Alaska has a total of 351 people confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, including 228 who recovered, 37 hospitalizations and a total of nine deaths. The majority of these cases have been recorded in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. None have been reported in the Copper River and Bristol Bay fisheries areas where health care facilities are very limited.
Those arriving by commercial or chartered aircraft must be wearing face coverings throughout their journey, except when going through security screenings, until they reach facilities where they are to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The city of Cordova on Prince William Sound, where the Copper River fishery opens in mid-May, has mandated a 14-day self-quarantine for everyone upon arrival, including residents returning from elsewhere in Alaska. Fishermen choosing to quarantine on their vessels are required to fly a “Lima” flag or similar yellow and black pennant if any crew on board have not completed their quarantine. They must also comply with all current COVID-19 mandates for the city, which can be found online at covid19.cityofcordova.net, as well as current state mandate available at covid19.alaska.gov.
Several fishermen who will depart Kodiak for Bristol Bay on their own fishing vessels said they and their crew would quarantine before departing and remain on their fishing vessels for the entire fishery. Anyone not planning to do the same while fishing in Bristol Bay this year should just stay home, they said.
The Bristol Bay working group, which represents economic, health, housing and tribal entities in the region, has told state health officials that human health and the safety of residents of their communities has priority over the fishery. The working group is demanding a collaborative effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the region, particularly since many people coming to harvest or process the salmon are arriving from places where there is already a high rate of infection.
The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–1919 devastated the region, leaving hundreds of children orphaned, some of whose descendants now fish commercially or process in Bristol Bay.
Participating processors are bringing their own personal protection equipment for employees and planning on other extensive deep cleaning and security measures throughout the fishery, for the protection of their own workers and the communities where they will be working.