Seafood workers processing Alaska pollock   Credit:  AK Public Media

Alaska seafood processors are paying tens of millions of dollars extra to cover costs from the Covid pandemic, and for most, it’s coming out of pocket.

Intrafish Media provides the first in-depth look at how costs for protective gear like masks and gloves, testing thermometers, extra staff to handle sanitizing demands between work shifts, and modifying worker lines for social distancing are playing out in the seafood processing world.

At Bristol Bay, for example, where around 13,000 workers from outside Alaska come to the Bay to work on fishing boats and in the plants, it’s estimated that all major processors combined likely spent $30 million to $40 million on Covid-related costs during the peak fishing months this summer.

Alaska processors covered extra costs for putting up employees in hotels and other 14-day quarantine sites required by the state. That alone added up to an additional $3,500 per worker.

Seafood companies also paid for pricey charter flights to isolate workers from passengers on commercial flights.

Most medium to larger processors had  medical professionals onsite for the duration, at a cost of $30,000 to $60,000, Intrafish said.

Workers were tested multiple times for the virus, with costs amounting to $175 per test.

Intrafish cited testimony by Silver Bay Seafoods CEO, Cora Campbell, at a U.S. Senate committee hearing in late July.

In a statement to the Senators, Campbell outlined the mounting millions Alaska companies have spent so far on Covid preventions.

She told lawmakers: “The industry is taking on these costs out of pocket at the same time we are facing severe disruption in key markets and multiple pre-COVID cost burdens.”

“While a fraction of these costs may be reimbursed,” Campbell said, “we face significant uncertainty because there’s no specific congressional directive to support health and safety protocol costs for critical seafood supply chains.”

Covid prevention measures are not included so far in relief loans and funds.

It’s unknown if they will be added into another stimulus relief package Congress could pass when it returns from a month long vacation.