Monday marked the first day since September that the state had reported fewer than 100 new positive test results for COVID-19 statewide.
While 84 new cases (83 involving residents; one nonresident) in Alaska isn’t cause for celebration, it is a relief to see that case counts remain on a downward trend. It’s also encouraging that statewide hospitalization numbers are now about two-thirds lower than they were in early December.
Still, as encouraging as the numbers are, COVID-19 remains in Alaska — and it continues to inflict damage on Alaska industries.
That includes the commercial fishing industry.
Three seafood processing plants in the Aleutian Islands have shut down because of COVID-19 outbreaks among plant personnel.
The most recent shutdown occurred Friday, and involved the Alyeska Seafoods processing plant in Unalaska, according to KUCB. Earlier last week, Trident Seafoods announced it was shutting down its Akutan plant for three weeks because of an outbreak. As of Friday, the UniSea plant in Unalaska ready had been shut for almost three weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The financial challenges that these closures pose for fishermen and processors — and the communities in which the plants operate — are substantial and grow ever larger the longer the closures remain in effect. It’s a reminder of COVID-19’s ability to disrupt business (and nearly every other aspect of life) quickly and deeply.
It’s been almost a year that the State of Alaska and the commercial fishing industry began grappling with how to safely conduct the harvest and processing of Alaska seafood resources in the presence of a pandemic. The effort, and the variety of mitigation plans it produced, were remarkable. Outbreaks have occurred, but fisheries continue to be conducted.
That includes here in Southeast Alaska where the summer salmon seasons proceeded as planned, and where the dive harvest fisheries for sea cucumber and geoduck clams, and the winter troll fishery for king salmon are underway.
And in a few months, Southeast Alaska’s main salmon fishing season will be set to start again. The presence or absence of COVID-19 will be a big factor in determining the success of the salmon seasons.
We’re certain that many people in the commercial fishing industry are weary of working to keep COVID-19 at bay. The circumstances in the Aleutian Islands remind us that much work remains.
So, we’ll take the encouragement of statewide trends showing declines in new cases and hospitalizations. We’ll also encourage all stakeholders in Alaska’s commercial fishing and other economic sectors to keep up the good work to reduce COVID-19 interruptions and effects.