North Pacific Ocean fishing fleets take to sea for weeks at a time with crews who work long hours and bunk in close quarters.
Now industry officials are ramping up their guard against the new coronavirus outbreak that could lay low some of their workforce.
On Wednesday, many dialed in to a teleconference with Alaska and Washington public health officials to get updates on how to prepare for the emerging risks of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
“The protocols on cleaning and how to prevent a virus are already part of the procedures that we follow,” said Chad See, executive director of the Freezer Longline Coalition. “But the sense was that this is an issue we need to be on top of.”
On the large vessels that catch and process seafood, dozens of crew members may be employed to work in remote areas of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
While at sea, the crews’ isolation shields them from a virus spreading on shore. But crew shifts bring new people on board, and could allow for the spread of the virus to a vessel.
Coronavirus guidance from the International Chamber of Shipping outlines screening procedures and includes many of the same preventive measures called for shoreside, such as trying to keep a distance from others, frequent hand washing, and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or a flexed elbow.
The chamber document notes that it is difficult to treat those with coronavirus on board and calls for ports to accept vessels for docking, and allow suspected cases to be treated on shore.
“Everyone just wants to be cognizant of what could happen and not let it get any worse,” See said.