The pandemic is putting a strain on the seafood industry, according to a new report focused on the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. fisheries. The study investigators suggest that American fishmongers may struggle without additional government aid.
The study, published in Fish and Fisheries, found that monthly fresh seafood exports declined up to 43% compared with 2019, while monthly imports fell up to 37%, and catches dropped 40% some months. Over the first six months of 2020, total U.S. seafood exports are down 20%, and imports are down 6%, compared with the same period last year. Further losses are likely as restrictions increase to address COVID-19.
“Seafood has been hit harder than many other industries because many fisheries rely heavily on restaurant buyers, which dried up when the necessary health protocols kicked in,” says lead author Easton White, PhD, of the University of Vermont in Burlington. “Restaurants represent about 65% percent of U.S. seafood spending, normally.” For context, more than one million U.S. seafood workers regularly produce more than $4 billion in annual exports, much of which is processed overseas and imported back to the U.S.
In January 2020, demand for American imports plummeted as lockdowns began in China. Starting in March, web searches for U.S. seafood restaurants fell more than 50% and foot traffic at seafood markets decreased 30%.
Additional Funding Needed for the Seafood Industry
Aid for fisheries has been slow, partly because pandemics are not currently considered valid reasons for a fishery failure or disaster under current law. The CARES act has authorized $300M for the sector. Even with increased demand for seafood delivery, which surged 460% for Google searches from March to April, some producers may not be able to recover without government assistance.
“Seafood is a seasonal business,” adds White. “If you have a March to June season, and can’t get funds until next year, you might have to quit. Support from policymakers will decide which producers can survive.”