Pandemic Continues to Challenge Seafood Processors

In a normal year, seafood processors coming to Alaska to process millions of pounds of fish are faced with the usual challenges of estimating the timing and run strength of the salmon, and when the actual harvest will begin, so all the manpower and equipment is in place and functioning as it should be. This year, with a global pandemic already showing its face all over Alaska, the processors have been planning for months on how to keep their employees, their facilities and the coastal communities they work in safe from COVID-19.

It has been a work in progress.

Through Tuesday, June 22, 778 Alaska residents have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 129 nonresidents, mostly seafood processor workers, and 12 of the new cases confirmed yesterday were seafood workers in Dillingham. All 12 workers are employed at the OBI Seafoods Wood River processing facility. (OBI Seafoods was created recently with the merger of Ocean Beauty and Icicle Seafoods.) Their diagnosis was confirmed through their employer’s quarantine and testing protocols. Dillingham city officials noted that all 12 were moved to separate isolation facilities within the company’s closed campus and that additional sanitation protocols were initiated.

OBI Seafoods tests all incoming employees before travel to Dillingham and then twice during the quarantine period. These employees were tested on day six of their quarantine in Dillingham, the second of three planned tests. City officials are now working with area and state health officials on contact tracing. Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby said the company’s protection plans caught these cases during quarantine and are helping to prevent the spread of the virus through the community.

In Cordova, on Prince William Sound, Ocean Beauty and the Cordova Medical Response Team confirmed two nonresident seafood workers had tested positive, and that they are now in isolation on Ocean Beauty’s closed campus. City officials there said they did not feel these cases pose a risk to the community at this time.