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US Fishing and Seafood Industries Suffer Broad Declines Due to Covid

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While the fishing and seafood sector in the United States has generated more than $200 billion in annual sales and supported 1.7 million jobs in recent years, it experienced broad declines in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 public health crisis, according to a recently released NOAA Fisheries analysis report.

Covid-19 protective measures designed to impede the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic that were instituted last March across the USA and most of the globe contributed to an almost immediate impact on seafood sector sales. There was a strong start to the year, with a 3 percent increase in commercial fish landings revenue in January and February. However, receipts declined each month from a 19 percent decrease in March to a 45 percent crop by July. This translates to a 29 percent decrease across those seven months, as compared to five-year averages and adjusted for inflation.

Restaurant closures, social distancing protocols, and other safety measures also contributed to losses in other sectors of the seafood economy. By the end of second quarter 2020, 78 percent of aquaculture, aquaponics, and allied businesses reported Covid-19 impacts with 74 percent experiencing lost sales. The analysis noted outdoor seating at restaurants in warm months and a pivot to direct delivery at some supermarkets provided an outlet for some aquaculture sales. 

“In the coming months and years, scientists and economists will work to obtain a more complete picture of Covid-19’s impact on US seafood and the Blue Economy. It is our hope that this initial analysis provides a foundation that the industry researchers and planners can draw upon as they plan for the future,” said Chris Oliver, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries assistant administrator.

On the trade front, international markets were negatively affected by disruptions in harvesting, processing and shipping. US seafood exports declined 18 percent in value in the January to June period, when compared to the past five years. Fresh product exports experienced steeper declines when compared to frozen product shipments. Seafood imports into the United States fell 4 percent in value in this period. These declines were offset by consumer demand for tuna imports, which increased 25 percent in this six month period, peaking to 49 percent in June.

The report notes that some US industry losses may be offset by the infusion of emergency federal relief funding. In May, NOAA allocated $300 million in fisheries aid to states, territories, and tribes as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. They, with the help of interstate commissions, are distributing these much-needed funds to eligible fishery participants. Furthermore, in September the Secretary of Agriculture made $530 million available through the Seafood Trade Relief Program to support fishermen and industries impacted by retaliatory tariffs from foreign governments.