Recently introduced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truck drivers moving goods across the US and Canadian borders has sparked an outcry from truckers in both countries, threatening to impact already strained supply chains for fresh products, including seafood.
Canadian border authorities began refusing entry to unvaccinated American truckers after an order came into force on Jan. 15.
At the US border crossing, vaccine mandates for south-bound truckers are expected to come into force Jan. 22.
Drivers arriving at the US border not in compliance with the mandate could face the refusal of entry into the US, including having their trucks returned to Canada.
It is estimated that as many as 22,000 Canadian truck drivers and 16,000 US truck drivers may be prevented from crossing by mandates imposed in both countries.
An estimated 50-60 percent of US truck drives are unvaccinated, according to the American Trucking Associations.
Truckers on both sides of the border have protested the new restrictions, and are threatening further action. Last week, protests flared up with Canadian truck drivers blocking a highway near the US-Manitoba province.
The impact on the fruit and vegetable sector is already being felt acutely. According to Bloomberg, one Canadian importer reported a 25 percent rise in trucking rates moving product from Arizona and California to Canada.
The decline in available drivers because of the new rules will put cost pressure on freight companies to hire new drivers in an already short labor market.
“The lower the supply, the higher the price. Ultimately it’s the consumer that pays for this,” George Pitsikoulis, president and chief executive officer of Montreal distributor Canadawide Fruits, told Bloomberg.
Big money at stake for seafood
The United States and Canada count each other as each other's largest trading partner. The value of trade between the two countries is worth an estimated $600 billion (€529 million), with around 80 percent moving on trucks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In 2020, the US imported over 256,000 metric tons of seafood from Canada, worth $2.9 billion (€2.6 billion), according to the US National Marine Fisheries Service.
Of those imports, salmon -- mostly farmed -- is one of the most important, and one of the few species that moves fresh year-round from Canada to the United States. In 2020, just over 86,000 metric tons of Canada's seafood exports were salmon, worth $670.8 million (€591 million).
In January 2021, over 20,000 metric tons of seafood worth $200 million (€176 million) was shipped from Canada into the United States. Of that, 7,227 metric tons was salmon, worth $55.5 million (€49 million). Lobster and crab imports, meanwhile, were worth $90 million (€79 million) in the same month.
US to Canada seafood exports, meanwhile, reached 110,000 metric tons in 2020, worth $816.9 million (€720 million). In January 2021, seafood shipments to Canada reached 11,053 metric tons, worth $56.9 million (€50.2 million).
So far, so good
Industry sources on both sides of the border reported no delays as of yet.
Grieg Seafood, one of the largest salmon farmers in British Columbia, said late Thursday that the requirement had not caused any issues so far.
"Happy to report that no, we have not seen any negative impacts from the recent change," a spokesperson told IntraFish.
But elsewhere the situation is less clear.
Officials at Mowi Canada declined to comment on the matter, while a spokesperson at Cooke Aquaculture confirmed there were no impacts from the situation on their operations.
Several sources in the salmon, wholesale and retail sectors contacted by IntraFish were simply unsure, and relying on freight forwarding and logistics firms to keep them apprised.
Quebec truckers angered by mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations plan to stage a protest on Jan. 28 in truck convoys to Canada's capital of Ottawa from border crossings between Canada and the United States.
They are likely to be joined by truckers from other Canadian provinces, according to local media reports.
The premier of Canada's Alberta province is urging the federal government to pause the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers to avoid supply chain disruption and higher fuel costs.