United States Seafoods had navigated the coronavirus pandemic with no cases on their vessels until last Thursday, Dec. 3, its last day of the season. The Seattle-based company’s trawler Legacy pulled into Unalaska to wrap up perch fishing for the season when two people onboard tested positive. Further testing by a local clinic found that 24 of the 25 people on the vessel had covid-19.

A news release from the city of Unalaska said that all the crew members remained onboard the 132-foot factory trawler, with the one person who tested negative separated from the rest.

U.S. Seafoods Chief Operating Officer Dave Wood told Alaska’s KTOO the outbreak was a blow to the company after nearly making it through the season without having any previous covid-19 cases.

“This is quite a disappointment to have weathered storms of covid all year, and to literally have this trip us up on our last day of the last port call of the season — it takes the wind out of your sails,” Wood said.

Matt Upton, an attorney for U.S. Seafoods said the Legacy had pulled into Dutch Harbor two weeks ago to swap out a few crew members, but said it has been at sea since with no community contact.

While observers generally think Alaska’s seafood industry has done a job containing the spread of covid-19 among workers and coastal communities, there were several outbreaks of the virus on trawlers. On two occasions, American Seafoods found nearly all their crew aboard large factory trawlers were infected and the company registered smaller outbreaks as well.

With winter fishing starting again in January and covid-19 cases surging, companies are joining forces with Alaska state health officials to improve measures to fight the virus.

“We’re definitely trying to talk with other folks and think of what the best practice is, as we learn more about the transmission, and think about if there’s any changes to how we’re approaching screening, or having people on the boat when they’re working,” Upton said.

A Dec. 4 news release from the city of Unalaska reported another six positive cases of covid-19, all of whom had arrived by plane last week to work in the seafood industry. Five were employed by Alyeska Seafoods and had arrived on a chartered flight and the other, a UniSea employee, had arrived on a commercial flight.

Originally published on SeafoodSource

Brian Hagenbuch is National Fisherman's products editor, a contributing editor to SeafoodSource and a Bristol Bay fisherman. He is based in Seattle.

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