The Alaska geoduck business is the latest to fall victim to the coronavirus outbreak, with the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association’s decision to postpone the fishery as prices plummeted.

With virtually the entire market reliant on live exports to China, prices to divers who harvest the giant clams and should be getting $5 to $10 per pound are down to $1.

The association voted to halt routine testing for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) Jan. 27 as the scale of impacts from the outbreak in China – which has decimated consumer demand at markets and restaurants there ­– became apparent.

Coronavirus investigators zeroed in on seafood and live animal markets in Wuhan, China, and precautions by public health authorities thousands of miles away were soon felt by Florida Keys fishermen.

After a sudden January lockdown of ports by China in the middle of the country’s New Year festivities, prices for Florida lobster dropped to around $6 to the boats, far from the $12.20 to $20.20 seen in past years when export demand was high, buyers reported.

Canadian lobster exports to China had ramped up in 2019, after China imposed a 42 percent tariff on U.S. imports that undercut what had been Maine’s growing market. But Canadian exporters saw their advantage dissipate in weeks as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted Asian markets.

Overall, industry analysts Urner Barry are reporting prices for hard shell select lobsters are down 10.7 percent since Jan. 20.

Northwest Dungeness crab fishermen saw a similar drop, as prices fell by $1 to $1.50 per pound after a live-import ban imposed by Chinese officials.

Farmed salmon producers like Chile and Norway saw similar disruptions, as Chinese consumers reduced their demand and the government there recommended avoiding markets and restaurants. That reversed a 2020 outlook for strong prices as salmon suppliers scrambled to make up for cancelled China orders in the U.S. and other markets.

Industry analysts say it will take weeks to assess the true fallout from the outbreak. The global shrimp market will feel major effects, as China is the world’s leading importer and producers of farmed product like Ecuador will take the hit.

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Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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