you're reading...


No Time to Waste for U.S. Seafood

Paper reviewed

White, E. R., Froehlich, H. E., Gephart, J. A., Cottrell, R. S., Branch, T. A., Agrawal Bejarano, R., & Baum, J. K. (2020). Early effects of COVID‐19 on US fisheries and seafood consumption. Fish and Fisheries. https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12525

What happens to a giant industry when it faces an even bigger shock?

Have you eaten seafood since March? If so, you’ve been a link in a system of seafood production that has weathered some serious disruptions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

people fishing in masks on dock

Recreational fishers practice social distancing at Stearns Wharf, CA. (PC: Babette Plana on Flickr)

US seafood production is a giant and complicated system. The US is the world’s top importer of seafood, and the fourth-largest exporter. The seafood system includes everything from large-scale commercial fisheries to small-scale aquaculture (not to mention small-scale commercial fisheries, and large-scale aquaculture), recreational fisheries, subsistence fisheries and everything in between. Plus, a host of players are involved in processing, distributing, marketing, and cooking seafood— all the steps involved in getting it from the sea to your plate.

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, it introduced changes that could touch every facet of the big and complicated seafood system.

But the size and complexity of the system also makes it hard to predict impacts of a shock like COVID-19. 

Understanding the impacts of COVID-19 can help governments and aid organizations decide where to invest in order to keep seafood systems functioning. Aware of the need for up-to-date understanding, a team of researchers set about tracking these unfolding impacts. 

A case for unconventional data

Smartphone in hands

Researchers used location data from smartphones to analyze changes in seafood market foot traffic. (PC: freestocks on Unsplash)

Academic research has an important role to play in describing impacts of a shock like a global pandemic. However, research often operates in retrospect, as it takes time to assemble needed data. Often, the insights from academic research can come too late to shape government intervention in an ongoing crisis.

To understand COVID-19 impacts on US seafood as they progressed, these researchers got creative, and turned to a combination of traditional and not-so-traditional data sources.

Traditional sources included trade data and commercial fisheries reports.  Trade data reveal the volume of fish and seafood crossing international borders— imports to the US or exports of US-based products.  Fisheries reports convey landings, or the total weight of fish harvested. These are valuable data sources, but often aren’t available until months (or years) behind a crisis. 

Faced with that constraint, researchers drew on not-so-traditional data sources. News analysis was used to get deeper insight and more complete stories of why seafood production numbers were changing. Location data from smartphones showed patterns of human foot traffic around seafood markets. Google search term trends provided a glimpse of what the US population was thinking and looking for, when it came to seafood.

Together, these data sources were combined to shed light on the ongoing impacts of pandemic on US seafood.

Early impacts disrupt production and demand

The impacts of COVID-19 on seafood appeared early in the pandemic timeline. Some of these changes began even before the virus was detected spreading within the US. As early as January 2020, news articles revealed concerns that a pandemic in China would lead to faltering demand for US seafood products abroad.

Soon enough, the consequences of the pandemic were felt much closer to home. Across all of the data sources the research team examined— landings, trade, foot traffic in seafood markets, Google search trends, and newspaper analysis— researchers found evidence of a negative impact of the pandemic on seafood production and consumption.

As the virus increasingly spread across the US, some commercial fisheries dropped off rapidly, while others stayed steady. By April, seafood imports and exports had dropped by more than a third. In seafood markets, foot traffic slowed when lockdowns began. Google search data reveals a similar trend— in April, searches for the term “seafood restaurant” plummeted compared to previous years. Newspapers began reporting on fishing seasons that were cut short, seasonal laborers who were unable to travel to take part in production, and outbreaks occurring at seafood production plants. 

With time, the seafood system adapted

Uber eats bike delivery at night

As seafood restaurants closed, Google searches for seafood take-out and delivery increased. (PC: Mak on Unsplash)

Fortunately, this is not only a story of decline. Even as seafood production and markets were disrupted by the pandemic, researchers also found evidence that different parts of the seafood industry were recovering.

Newspaper articles showed the emergence of direct-to-consumer marketing, where the seafood producer sells their product straight to the person who will be eating it. When the restaurants where US consumers usually eat seafood were forced to close, direct-to-consumer approaches helped producers maintain an income.

News analysis showed a shift in consumer demands, too— as the pandemic continued, the news increasingly reported consumers looking for frozen products. That pattern was reflected in some commercial fishery reports: for fish that are usually frozen, landings remained consistent throughout the pandemic. Even fish that are mostly sold fresh, not frozen, had begun to recover to pre-pandemic harvest levels by June 2020.

Recovery looked spotty in the seafood trade data. Frozen imports of seafood had climbed back to 2019 levels by July 2020, and imports of fresh, frozen, and live seafood began to increase in the summer as well. Export data showed a bumpier ride— numbers increased to 2019 levels in early summer, then dropped off again.

Some areas across the nation saw foot traffic in seafood markets increase again, too. By July, broad patterns of seafood market foot traffic were approaching 2019 levels.

Meanwhile, Google search data showed more people searching for ways to enjoy seafood without going out to restaurants. “Seafood delivery”, “seafood recipe”, and “sushi take-out” were all searched for at levels higher than previous years.

Where do we go from here?

Seafood market with distancing

In seafood markets like this one in Virgina, distancing and masking allow business to continue. (PC: Virginia SeaGrant on Flickr)

Rapid assessments like this seek to guide policies that can address the negative impacts of the pandemic. The federal government has already taken some interventions to support US seafood production, including the passage of the CARES Act, the Payroll Protection Program, and the federal purchase of commercial fisheries products. The researchers behind this report call for future aid focused on supporting fishery-dependent communities and enhancing markets for fresh products.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 on US seafood are still uncertain. Different fisheries and aquaculture productions are sure to respond differently to the constraints and challenges imposed by the pandemic; others may have been able to recover but might need more relief soon. Plus, the impacts of COVID-19 on seafood producers extend to the broader community. Communities that are already vulnerable are likely to bear exacerbated challenges.

Finally, this research was published before the most recent wave of COVID-19, with daily deaths surpassing 3,000 people in the USA per day. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, these numbers are deeply sobering. The impacts of this pandemic will be closely felt— in the seafood industry and beyond— for a long time to come.


One Response to “No Time to Waste for U.S. Seafood”

  1. This is a great informative piece on the impacts of Covid-19 on the seafood industry. When the pandemic first hit, I started looking into places where I could order seafood from because I wanted to support these businesses. I stumbled on https://qualityseafooddelivery.com/ which I think is a great resource for people who want to learn how to order seafood online.

    Posted by David | January 15, 2021, 10:48 am

Post a Comment


  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 12 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 1 year ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com