Seafood coming from and going to China is piling up in freezers as the coronavirus continues to cause chaos around the world.
“If you have plants that have product coming in and no workers to fill it, you’re going to get that overflowing cold storage situation. So it’s definitely a problem on the reprocessing side. On the consumption side, if people aren’t going out to eat and going out to the market to buy fish and seafood, that’s going to take consumption down as well. So there’s a couple different ways that it’s working against moving seafood through the supply chain.”
Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, has tracked world salmon markets for over a decade.
He says the China virus is just one element of uncertainty as buyers prepare for Alaska’s upcoming salmon season.
“We’ve got the coronavirus. And that’s really plugging up world markets. We’ve got the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China. Different things happening in Europe. And so there’s been a lot of disruptions to world markets and seafood markets in general.”
The situation in China, Wink says, is diverting more seafood from elsewhere to the U.S.
“The salmon farming companies are looking elsewhere – what other markets can they direct their product towards. And the US is the obvious choice. So we’ve seen salmon prices on average down about 10% since the first of the year at a wholesale level.”
Another hit comes from the ongoing U.S. seafood ban by Russia.
“We have a really good domestic market for Alaska sockeye, yet anytime our prices get high, here comes this Russian sockeye and there’s no channel for us to send salmon back there. It was a big market for us but it’s been closed and yet we’re leaving our gates open for Russian product coming in. And it just seems very unfair as far as trade practices go.”
Alaska has worked hard to diversify its seafood markets since Trump’s trade tariffs pulled the plug on China, its top customer. But the virus scare is causing promotional cancellations throughout new and more established sales regions, said Hannah Lindoff, global marketing director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
“We have on the ground representatives in these regions conducting marketing activities to help raise the value of Alaska seafood products in the market. However, due to travel bans and health concerns, several chef seminars in China, designed to boost knowledge of different Alaska species, planned for this month have been cancelled. Additionally, events in Singapore and Italy were also cancelled. ASMI continues to prioritize the health of our overseas representatives and partners in these regions and hope for positive news,” Lindoff said in an email message.