- Out of 126 people on board an American Seafoods ship, 92 tested positive for coronavirus last week. This was the first major coronavirus outbreak on a fishing vessel with a processing plant in the Pacific Northwest, according to NPR.
- American Seafoods CEO Mikel Durham said in a statement all crew members were screened and tested for coronavirus or antibodies before they boarded the ship. Only those who tested negative were allowed to board.
- The ship, which is called American Dynasty and is just 30 feet shorter than a football field, was fishing for hake before docking in Washington. A worker who felt sick was taken ashore, where they tested positive for coronavirus. A day later, according to NPR, 85 more crew members tested positive. The remainder of the positive tests came in during the next several days.
Despite the fact that fishing trade groups say the industry has taken steps to protect workers and implemented strict plans to avoid the same problems as meatpacking plants, a major coronavirus outbreak hit just as the summer fishing season is kicking off. This comes at a time when hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fish are ready to harvest, and thousands of fishermen are expected to start work in Alaska.
As coronavirus has spread among workers in other areas of the food industry, some wanted to cancel this year's fishing season in Alaska. The state went forward anyway with new safety measures in place, including masks, temperature checks and screenings. But this latest outbreak shows these efforts are not foolproof.
"It was like, 'Wow, I can't believe this.' We had done so much. Each company had worked so hard to try to avoid this happening," Brent Paine, executive director of trade group United Catcher Boats, which represents members who fish in Alaska, Washington and Oregon, told NPR.
This isn't the first coronavirus case among seafood workers. Bristol Seafood shuttered its processing plant in Maine for two days after five workers tested positive for coronavirus and a Trident Seafoods worker in Alaska tested positive last month. But this is the first at sea.
After 92 tested positive on the American Dynasty ship, American Seafoods reported an additional 25 crew members tested positive on two different fishing vessels, the Northern Jaeger and the American Triumph. Each vessel has more than 110 workers. Most of the crew on the ships tested negative, but there were four positives on Triumph and 21 on Northern Jaeger.
Seafood companies are working to avoid the same fate as the meat industry. Meat plants quickly became hot spots for coronavirus in the U.S., since workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder working to slaughter, process and package meat. Many criticized the industry for not closing plants and implementing safety measures fast enough. Although companies eventually started closing plants as outbreaks spread, many then warned of supply shortages. President Donald Trump signed an executive order deeming plants as "critical infrastructure" to keep doors open.
But it is not just meat plants where outbreaks have spread. Across the food industry, at least 28,455 workers have tested positive and at least 101 workers have died, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.
The seafood industry is already struggling financially as the pandemic has drastically hurt business. When restaurants closed, many U.S. fisheries reported sales plummeting as much as 95%. As a result, thousands of commercial fishers are at risk of bankruptcy. The industry has asked government for help. In March, U.S. seafood companies, including Trident, Pacific Seafoods, High Liner, Cargill and Fortune International, wrote a letter to the Trump administration asking for financial support. An aid package approved in late March did give $300 million to help the seafood industry, but many said it wasn't enough.
American Seafoods said it tested workers before they were allowed on the vessel, but its advance quarantine was only five days. That decision was criticized since it can take 14 days for people to show symptoms of COVID-19 or for the virus to be detectable in a test. American Seafoods said it has now changed its quarantine requirement to 14 days.