Alaska Seafood COVID-19 Impact Report Says Challenges Lie Ahead in 2021

A report on the impact of the global novel coronavirus pandemic forecasts more COVID challenges ahead for the seafood industry in 2021, ranging from trade disputes and climate change to increased competition, fish size and plant-based foods.

The report prepared for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute by McKinley Research Group (formerly the McDowell Group) also predicts increased demand for seafood from new consumers and bigger freezers, growth in direct-to-consumer sales and a strong Alaska brand that is increasingly relevant.

Impacts to date have included increased operating expenses that have cost seafood processors about $70 million; increased transportation and logistics challenges due to reduced air travel; and delays getting into China, resulting in demurrage fees for failure to unload in a timely manner. Processors surveyed said they expected those costs which are above and beyond those normally incurred due to the pandemic would reach $100 million, mostly travel and quarantine related.

The report also noted that ex-vessel values in 2020 were 20-25% lower, with biological issues in key fisheries, but that the fisheries did continue to operate.

Some 29,000 fishermen were employed for 2020 harvests, with crew license numbers down 21% from 2019 and the total of 26,000 processing workers down 31% from a year earlier.

2020 harvests of 2.6 million metric tons of seafood worth $2 billion were down 20-25% from 2019 to an estimated $1.5 billion. Wholesale production of 1.26 million metric tons of seafood worth $4.7 billion was down 16 % in export value and volume from 2019.

Some 75% of all Alaska seafood produced was exported in 2020 to 84 countries, the report states.

Bristol Bay proved a bright spot for volume is salmon harvests, with disaster declarations proposed for eight Alaska salmon fisheries in 2020. With inventory low, the forecast was for strong markets going into 2021.