With the US Pacific whiting fishery set to open on May 15, five major seafood companies are planning to test crews for coronavirus in addition to implementing safety and quarantine measures.
American Seafoods, Arctic Storm, Glacier Fish, Aleutian Spray Fisheries, and Trident Seafoods will be providing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to crew members, Matt Tinning, director of public affairs for the At-Sea Processor's Association (APA), told IntraFish.
Several of the companies are working with the University of Washington and Discovery Health MD to implement testing, with hake season viewed as an opportunity to plan for pollock fishing in Alaska later this year.
"CDC and public health guidance is rapidly changing in relation to testing asymptomatic workers," Dr. Ann Jarris, CEO of Discovery Health MD, told IntraFish.
"As testing capacity allows, our industry is working to incorporate testing into its screening protocols."
Alaska's governor has not mandated testing for incoming seafood workers, which has raised substantial concerns for communities over how the virus will be contained if there is an outbreak aboard a vessel or at a processing plant.
For companies such as Trident, the majority of its Alaska workers are not residents and must travel into the state from elsewhere.
Trident's pollock catcher-processor vessel Island Enterprise, for example, departed the company's shipyard in Tacoma, Washington this week to fish for whiting, also called Pacific hake, along the Oregon and Washington coast.
That crew, which will consist of workers from all over the United States, will not depart the vessel when it returns to port in Tacoma, and instead go directly to Alaska by June for the pollock B season.
The crew was isolated in hotel rooms for two weeks in Tacoma prior to the vessel departing, with food delivered three times each day, a Trident official told IntraFish.
In preparation for the five-month trip, Trident created a regimen to support the crew's physical and mental health, including yoga and meditation.
Jarris said the testing and experience from the whiting trip will be instructive for pollock.
"Our hope is that testing conducted ahead of Pacific whiting season can provide information and approaches that can be helpful for the wild Alaska pollock B season and the broader industry," Jarris said.
"We are grateful for the collaboration with the University of Washington, which has played a critical role in providing capacity and expertise."
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing uses a sample of mucus typically taken from a person's nose or throat, and is useful for identifying people who currently have the virus.
"During this time of crisis, our region’s fishing industry has been hyper-focused on safeguarding the health and safety of our workers and the communities in which we operate," Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the At-sea Processors Association, told IntraFish. "Companies have worked quickly to implement new protocols, which have included extensive new screening and quarantining procedures and the widespread deployment of personal protective equipment.
"We are constantly monitoring federal and state guidance to ensure our procedures reflect the latest scientific understanding about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19."