COVID-19 has interrupted seafood markets, both here in the Pacific Northwest and globally. International trade has been disrupted, making it difficult for shellfish growers, crabbers, trawlers, and other commercial fishers to export their catch to other countries for processing and for consumption.
Travel restrictions are making it tough for fishers who participate in fisheries in other states or federal waters to deliver to Washington markets. The local markets our fishers rely on have been severely impacted by the closure of restaurants, casinos, and other businesses. Reduced demand is impacting buyers and processors, especially those who distribute fresh seafood. Fishermen are experiencing reduced prices at the dock and processors and suppliers are experiencing smaller operating margins.
The impacts of COVID-19 have been far reaching in time and scale and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) is concerned about the effects to individuals, businesses, and the full seafood supply chain into the future.
This spring the WDFW worked with commercial fishers to get them the permits they needed to harvest and sell catch directly to consumers and retailers in Washington. The limited fish seller endorsement allows commercial fishers to access customers directly – selling their product off the docks or at local farmers markets. The fish dealer license, on the other hand, allows them to sell to restaurants or stores. This effort will help keep our commercial fishers in business, supply food to the public, and provide more market options for both harvesters and consumers.
The agency is working with our congressional delegation, NOAA, and Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) to interpret guidance for CARES Act – Assistance to Fishery Participants and get it quickly distributed to those who need it. Eligible fisheries will include many more commercial fishers and fishing related businesses than the disaster relief packages we have seen in the past. This funding will go to commercial fishers, shellfish growers, processors, and charter operators with revenue losses of at least 35% of the previous 5-year average. The WDFW is pulling data to assess which of the state’s fishers and fishing businesses are eligible and will be working with Governor Inslee’s Office, commercial fishers, PSMFC and others to develop spending plans for Washington in order to get this funding out to those who need it.
Though Washington and Alaska received the highest portion of funds, $50 million each, as with other funding under the CARES Act this initial installment is limited. We don’t expect that it will be enough to cover the full range of impacts being felt today, and in the months to come. That said, our Congressional Delegation is already hard at work moving forward an additional installment of funding targeted at impacted fisheries nationwide.
While communication is challenging in our new virtual world, WDFW is dedicated to keeping fishers informed on the approach to distributing funds to those impacted in Washington. If you have questions about our process don’t hesitate to reach out to Ron Warren our Fish Policy lead at Ron.Warren@dfw.wa.gov. More resources on COVID-19 impacts and fisheries relief are listed below:
NOAA Fisheries website: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/noaa-fisheries-coronavirus-covid-19-update
Washington Sea Grant’s website which lists resources for commercial fishers on COVID-19: https://wsg.washington.edu/covid-19-resources-for-the-seafood-industry/
Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission website where they have information on CARES fisheries disaster funding along with past federal disaster relief funding: http://www.psmfc.org/homecontents/2012-alaska-salmon-fishery-disaster-relief
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s website that has info on CARES fisheries disaster funding along with past federal disaster relief funding: https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/commercial/federal-disaster-assistance