ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska government officials and fishing industry professionals are making plans to ensure the state can have a strong summer salmon season amid changes forced by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Alaska’s chief medical officer says the state has a fisheries work group looking at how small communities can handle influxes of fishermen and processing workers while adhering to health guidelines, The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported Wednesday.
“We know the fish are coming regardless of COVID-19 or not and we can’t ask them to stay home,” Dr. Anne Zink said March 30.
The Copper River sockeye and king fishery that unofficially begins the annual salmon harvest in mid-May will be one of the first testing grounds.
United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said fishing groups across the state are attempting to adjust fishing operations to the challenges caused by the virus.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
“Commercial fishermen are kind of infamous for not giving away their secret fishing spots so trying to shift gears and make sure we’re all communicating and sharing information during this time is really important,” Leach said.
The goal is to standardize new health guidelines and corresponding procedures for each fishery to ensure fishermen and support workers know what is expected, Leach said.
Industry leaders are developing and submitting vessel action plans to the state detailing steps they plan to take to prevent the spread of the virus while fishing and how they will respond if a ship worker develops symptoms during the season, Leach said.
“Just because we’re considered a critical workforce doesn’t mean that we can just run off and start fishing,” Leach said.