The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major shift in the way that Kodiak’s processors are doing business, and is jeopardizing the Bristol Bay summer fishing season. For the most part, because of their connection to the global market, processors have been ahead of the game in taking precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus into Alaskan communities.
Paul Lumsden, Kodiak plant manager for Trident Seafoods, says because China is a major buyer of American seafood, they were on high alert early on when the virus first appeared in Wuhan last winter.
“When the cases started coming to the United States, it was mission critical for us as a primary essential business to put in place to put in place protocols and to do everything we could,” he said.
Now, Trident is implementing a number of protocols in an attempt to balance the processing workload with preventing the introduction of coronavirus to the island. Lumsden says employees have their temperatures tested every morning before clocking in for work. Employee mealtimes are staggered and employees are spaced out while eating in the galley to maintain social distancing.
Employees with above normal temperatures are required to quarantine for 14 days, says Lumsden. The plant has so far seen three crew members with elevated temperatures — all three are currently on day 6 of a quarantine. Three other employees with flu-like symptoms have already been tested for COVID-19, and came up negative, according to Lumsden.
The Alaska Groundfish Data Bank has been coordinating with processors to limit the number of new staff being brought in from off-island for the upcoming season.
“We don’t expect any additional workers coming into town for the months of April and May, except for a few small exceptions,” said executive director Julie Bonney. “I think the exceptions is about eight workers in the month of April and less than 15 additional workers coming in May, bearing no unforeseen circumstances.”
Other protocols are in place to make sure harvesters don’t have physical contact with plant employees, says Lumsden.
“Our fishing vessels are not allowed to come off the boat now … They get handed the fish ticket paperwork through a drop bag line on a pole. Crew members, skippers, aren’t allowed off the dock. We have drop zones for groceries and parts … We’ve cut off all access to the plant, offices, dock. We’re communicating via phone or email. We tried to mitigate all of our exposures.”
With the summer fishing season on the horizon, harvesters are catching up to processors by implementing their own mitigation protocols. Mike Friccero, owner of the F/V Miss Gina and former Bristol Bay Seafood Development Association president, says the state is likely to adopt universal mitigation plan for catcher vessels.
Friccero warns that for now, vessels should not be heading for Bristol Bay until there is a formalized plan in place.
“We’re [asking] fishermen that are looking to go to Bristol Bay to wait until at least May 1 with a possible extension to May 15,” he said. “Early arrival … or early uncontrolled arrival by outside non locals into the watershed is probably the biggest issue that we’re trying to prevent at this time while we get our plan formalized.”
Lumsden, Bonney and Friccero, along with Alaska Pacific Seafood’s Matt Moier, were guests on Tuesday’s edition of The Lowdown. Wednesday’s edition of The Lowdown will be our weekly check-in with members of Kodiak’s medical community. Submit your questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (907) 486-3181.