BEAUFORT — With restaurants in North Carolina closed to dining in and fishing charters losing reservations, commercial fishing is feeling the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Tuesday closing restaurants and bars to dine-in service. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance recommending people avoid large gatherings and to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a result, commercial fishermen, including for-hire and charter fishermen, have been “significantly impacted,” according to N.C. Fisheries Association President Glenn Skinner.
The NCFA is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the state seafood industry. Mr. Skinner, who is also a commercial fisherman, said in an email to the News-Times Wednesday the association hopes “that representatives in Raleigh and (Washington) D.C. keep the fishermen in mind as they assess the impacts of this unprecedented event.
“Restaurant closures across the country have eliminated many of the markets for N.C. seafood,” Mr. Skinner said. “While it’s too early to predict the long-term impacts, it appears they will be devastating if the current situation continues for any length of time.”
Mr. Skinner said for-hire and charter fishermen are also “feeling the pinch” from the outbreak. He said clients have been canceling fishing trips booked in advance.
“If folks choose not to travel this summer, their entire fishing season may be lost,” Mr. Skinner said.
Brent Fulcher, owner of Beaufort Inlet Seafood, a local wholesale seafood dealer, said while the virus outbreak is affecting the seafood markets, his dealers are handling it “day-by-day.”
Mr. Fulcher also owns and operates B&J Seafood in New Bern.
“We’re presently open and purchasing seafood,” he said. “It’s affecting everyone. No one knows if it (the outbreak) could last two more days, two more months or all year.”
Mr. Fulcher said the perishable nature of seafood can create an issue, and seafood that isn’t going to be used immediately needs to be frozen.
“There’s been three or four companies that have quit buying due to the uncertainty,” he said. “We haven’t because we’re working through it day-by-day. We need to be there for the consumer to provide a source of food.”
The potential for government limitations on movement are another concern.
Mr. Fulcher said California has implemented limitations on travel throughout the state to prevent spreading the virus; however, he said commercial fishing operations have been exempted from these restrictions.
The seafood dealer said he hopes if such restrictions are implemented in North Carolina, its commercial fishing operations will be similarly exempt.
Much like Mr. Fulcher’s dealers, Blue Ocean Seafood Market in Morehead City is staying open for business. Blue Ocean Market manager and corporate chef Anthony Garnett said for them, things have been “so far, so good.”
“Retail remains strong and busy,” Mr. Garnett said. “We’re working to help local restaurants and businesses. Our boats are out there.”
Mr. Garnett said while he’s sure they’ll start to see the effects of the health crisis eventually, for now it’s business as usual for Blue Ocean Market. The staff is taking measures to help prevent the virus from spreading, however.
“We’re sanitizing all surfaces (in the market) at the top and bottom of the hour,” Mr. Garnett said. “We sanitize the door after each customer, we provide hand sanitizer for customers, and all employees are in gloves.”
He said if customers prefer, Blue Ocean Market is willing to bring seafood orders out to their cars.
While restaurant closures and travel restrictions may affect the seafood industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday there’s no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19, which is “thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.”
“Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses, like norovirus and hepatitis A, that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness,” the FDA said. “Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”
The FDA said as of Tuesday there are no national food shortages, although the inventory of certain foods at individual grocery stores may be temporarily low before stores can restock.
“Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the United States,” the FDA said. “No widespread disruptions have been reported in the supply chain.”
More information on food safety and the coronavirus is available online at fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.