Seafood shipping concerns rise amid coronavirus outbreaks

There’s no denying that coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has had a massive impact on the world. Here’s an overview of the ramifications on seafood shipping and related topics. 

Demand and customer levels are down

Industry experts say the coronavirus factors into a downward trend related to demand. For example, Alaska’s Sitka Sac Roe Herring Fishery likely won’t happen this year. The department overseeing fish and game in the state reportedly contacted all processors with an assumed interest, and the response was that none intended to purchase herring this year. 

(Photo credit: Sitka Sac Roe Herring Fishery)

Richard Riggs, a representative from Silver Bay Seafoods, cited uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus as one of the reasons why his company will not participate in the fishery. 

Many people bring up Chinese fish markets because the coronavirus may have originated at a facility that sells seafood and other meat. However, Japan is feeling the sting of the coronavirus, too. An official familiar with the Tokyo seafood trade said the number of customers at Tokyo’s Toyosu Market in February 2020 was down as much as 30% compared to the year before. 

The coronavirus poses an exceptional threat to industries and products that almost solely depend on exporting to China for survival. Such is the case in the market for baby eels, known as elvers. Most elvers caught in Maine go to Eastern Asia – China in particular. The trade generated more than $168 million for fishing professionals in the state over the past nine years. However, the coronavirus could halt continuing prosperity indefinitely. 

(Photo credit: Flickr/prayitno)

Exporters dealing with too much stock

China halted seafood imports as a response to the coronavirus outbreak. The change meant exporters had excess product they couldn’t move. For example, in Australia, people fear it could be months before the Chinese market resumes accepting fresh seafood. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) predicts a $389 million decline in the country’s fisheries and aquaculture industry. 

In the U.S., some analysts frame a similar seafood surplus as a positive thing for consumers due to lower prices. They also mention how the coronavirus hit Canada. Before the virus, that country sent 1.5 million pounds of lobster to Asian nations on nine charter flights per week. That’s all ended since China, and some surrounding nations, stopped accepting deliveries from seafood shipping companies.

It’s also uncertain whether businesses within the supply chain will need to abide by new requirements whenever trade resumes. Many of the businesses use freight containers that maintain a temperature range of -20°C to -65°C, depending on individual shipment specifics. The containers keep the cargo in sale-ready condition, but might suppliers need to go through extra measures to ensure recipients accept their goods? Only time will tell.

Limitations on mass gatherings could have lasting impacts

Chinese fish markets and other trade hubs closed down when China found itself in the midst of the initial coronavirus outbreak. Since then, many countries have taken similar drastic measures to try and curb the spread of the disease. Many organizers canceled tech conferences, while musicians halted their plans to tour in the affected nations. 

(Photo credit: Flickr/Dave See)

More pertinent to the topic at hand is that health officials in Kuwait warned of the dangers of gathering in the fish market. Even when people do not have coronavirus symptoms, medical authorities around the world often strongly advise them to self-isolate for at least two weeks.

If that kind of isolation affects areas of the globe where fish markets comprise a major segment of trade in a community, it could further hurt companies that deal in seafood shipping. 

Numerous seafood-specific trade shows have been called off due to public health concerns. Those events typically give attendees ample opportunities to mingle and develop new business.

With the halt of seafood imports into China, it’s arguably even more critical for people to build those connections. Now, they have no choice but to try and make positive impressions without the advantage of face-to-face interactions. 

(Photo credit: Flickr/Jochen Bullerjahn)

An uncertain outlook for seafood shipping and trade

Seafood shipping professionals may need to get ready for a bleak future, or at least dramatically change their business models to compensate for recent or impending losses. Any stoppages or slowdowns of seafood moving around the world could also negatively affect consumers.

Some may enjoy appealing prices for now, but that won’t be the case in markets relying heavily on imports that cannot arrive.