The effects of covid-19 in North Carolina are widespread and touching all aspects of the fishing industry, including seafood harvesters, wholesalers, retailers and processors — all currently operating their businesses at a fraction of their normal production or in many cases, closed for business.
"It’s affecting everyone," said Brent Fulcher, of Beaufort Inlet Seafood and B&J Seafood and Fish Market in New Bern, N.C. “No one knows if this will last two more days, two more months or all year.”
As restaurants and retailers close across the country, markets for fresh seafood are quickly drying up. The severe cutbacks are particularly tough on small operators like Keith Bruno, owner of Endurance Seafood in Oriental, N.C.
“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to sell anything right now. We won’t be putting any more pots overboard. And with Virginia and Maryland opening, I doubt any North Carolina crabs will be sold,” said Bruno. “Right now, I just don’t see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.”
Making matters worse is the closure of restaurants and fish markets up and down the coast. New York, Boston and Baltimore are shutting down, following government mandates to help slow the spread of the virus.
Jerry Warren of Diamond Shoals Seafood in Pamlico, N.C., is managing to sell “a few crabs and fish here and there,” but he says the whole operation is on a day-to-day basis. “Everyone is doing their best to stay open. But at this rate, it’s difficult to see that happening.”
It’s all on a day-to-day basis. For those more diversified, the impacts are no less serious.
“We’re working very hard to not cut anyone — we’re pushing forward, making adjustments and trying to keep things stable,” said Fulcher. “Everyone has to do their part in this is uncharted water. We all need to do everything we can to continue the food source.”
"Fishermen are an essential business — we feed people," added Fulcher. "That’s not to say things aren’t tough right now, but we’re pushing through. We’re presently open and purchasing seafood.
The state, he said, "is getting ready to open black sea bass and summer flounder — that’s a great move. Hoping it will restore confidence."
In an ironic twist of fate, a study created prior to the upsurge in covid-19 cases aims to calculate the economic impacts of North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry. All active commercial fishermen — almost 2,500 individuals — received the survey by mail as part of the research.
“We need to know the total economic value of the seafood industry to this state. It’s not just the seafood sales," said Glenn Skinner, North Carolina Fisheries Association president. "It’s the money we spend on gas for our trucks and boat repair, the jobs created at seafood processing facilities and restaurants.”
“Every aspect of our industry is being affected. Not surprised if all fish houses are either shut down or running at low capacity by next week,” Skinner added.
The results of the survey will be used to influence representatives in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., to keep the fishermen in mind as they assess the impact of this pandemic.
"It’s important for our industry to provide access for consumers to the resource," Fulcher added. "We are working hard to do just that."