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Articles Posted in COVID-19

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FaceMasks12x6-300x150The fishing and maritime industries have been hit hard by COVID-19 as outbreaks have swiftly traveled through vessels and processers. No one knows for certain how an individual will respond to the virus; many show no signs of illness but may be highly contagious. Others become so ill they require hospitalization, and many develop long-term medical conditions as a result of the illness. Every aspect of the seafood supply chain has been distressed by the pandemic, especially for those who work in fishing and processing.

To reduce the transmission of COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued an emergency order requiring all persons “traveling on conveyances into and within the United States” to wear a face mask. But how does this affect the fishing and maritime industries?

U.S. Coast Guard has been granted the authority to implement public health measures consistent with the CDC guidelines at seaports (e.g., passenger terminals, cargo handling facilities, and other shoreside facilities that provide transportation of persons or cargo). The CDC mask requirement has been interpreted by the U.S. Coast Guard to apply to “all forms of commercial maritime vessels,” including cargo ships, fishing vessels, research vessels, and self-propelled barges.  The Marine Safety Information Bulletin states that all persons working or traveling on commercial vessels are required to “wear a face mask or cloth face covering when outside of individual cabins.”

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Vaccine12x6-300x150The world watched today as the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in Coventry, England. The recipient was Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother. With several vaccines becoming available in the weeks ahead, the next question is who will be included in the first phase of distribution?

Fishing and maritime industries have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. The rapid spread in processing facilities both on land and at sea has been devastating for workers and processors. Distribution and transportation disruption, border restrictions, and a change in the demand for fresh seafood due to restaurant closures and event cancellations are just a few of the many hardships the industry has faced.

Last week, the CDC advisory council recommended that those who work in the food and agriculture sectors be among the next wave of vaccinations. Priority for the first round of vaccinations will be given to health care and long-term care facility workers. This distribution is being called “Phase 1a”. It has been recommended that the next wave include first responders, educators, transportation workers, and food and agricultural workers (which includes fishermen and seafood processors). This group will be called “Phase 1b”.

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Alaska1200x630-300x158North Pacific Seafoods workers have been awarded a $440,000 settlement after being held for quarantine without pay in a Los Angeles hotel. Stacey and Jacobsen, PLLC first reported the details of this case on July 7th.

Each of the 165 workers who were quarantined is most likely eligible to collect approximately $2,685. That amount will be paid after each worker signs a release to drop further legal action against North Pacific Seafoods. After the workers have been paid, the parties will seek a dismissal.

The workers, who primarily reside in Mexico and Southern California, were hired to work at the North Pacific Seafoods Red Salmon Cannery in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The lawsuit maintained that workers were forced to quarantine in Los Angeles after three members of the team tested positive for COVID-19. North Pacific Seafoods provided no compensation during the quarantine. The lawsuit alleged false imprisonment, nonpayment of wages, failure to pay minimum wages and overtime, negligence, and unlawful business practices.

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Poll-300x150The F/V AMERICAN TRIUMPH remains docked after Eighty-five crew members have tested positive for COVID-19. The factory trawler left Oregon headed for Alaska on June 27th carrying 119 workers. It was reported that two weeks after the ship departed, seven workers reported feeling ill and were tested for COVID-19 in Unalaska. Six of the seven tests came back positive.

The remaining crewmembers were tested last week, and 79 additional tests came back positive, bringing the total confirmed cases of COVID-19 aboard the F/V AMERICAN TRIUMPH to 85. The 285-foot vessel is part of a fleet of six fishing vessels owned by Seattle-based American Seafoods Group, LLC.

According to the American Seafoods Company website, crew members have been relocated to Anchorage to isolate and quarantine. The company has committed to providing quarantine facilities, daily meals, and accessible onsite medical care. They reported that they will use this time to sanitize the vessel. How or if the ill crewmembers will be compensated has not been reported. There are now 97 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the population of Unalaska, Alaska, a community of about 4,500 residents. The local health clinic reports only having 3 ventilators available.

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Naknec-300x158A lawsuit has been filed against North Pacific Seafoods after approximately 150 seasonal cannery workers were forced to quarantine without pay in a Los Angeles hotel. According to the complaint, all workers arrived at a hotel and were instructed to wait together in a crowded hallway to fill out paperwork. The workers reported that they were in close contact with one another for nearly six hours.

Workers were assigned to individual hotel rooms, then tested for the coronavirus. Three of the workers tested positive, and all workers were told they must quarantine until June 25th without pay. The complaint goes on to say that all workers were instructed not to leave their rooms or they would be immediately terminated.

The workers were hired on June 2, 2020, by North Pacific Seafoods to process seafood at the Red Salmon Cannery in Naknek, Alaska. Most of the workers are from Mexico or Southern California, while North Pacific Seafoods is based in Seattle, Washington. Each summer, the company hires hundreds of temporary seafood processors from around the world. Workers are promised round-trip transportation to and from their point of hire as well as lodging and meals.

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Alaska-Iceberg1200x600Approximately 110 crewmembers from three American Seafoods ships have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The F/V NORTHERN JAEGER is docked at the Seattle cruise ship terminal while sick crew members recover. Others are in quarantine after exposure, many in Seattle area hotels. As of today, the F/V AMERICAN TRIUMPH, and F/V AMERICAN DYNASTY have reportedly returned to fishing.

American Seafoods CEO, Mikel Durham, reported that all workers were tested for Covid-19 before they boarded vessels and all crew members were quarantined for a minimum of 5 days, a much shorter period than the recommended 14 days. In a press release dated May 30th, 2020, American Seafoods announced that after COVID-19 outbreaks on three of their vessels they had adopted the recommended 14-day quarantine.

Pandemic safety measures intended for the fishing industry differ from state to state. In Washington, guidelines are recommended, but companies may choose to ignore them or create their own. In the Alaska Protection Plan for Independent Commercial Fishing Harvesters dated May 15, 2020, Governor Mike Dunleavy mandated that all people arriving in Alaska, including residents, workers, and visitors, are required to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival in the state.

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Lab_Worker_CDCFB-300x158In a press release issued last night, American Seafoods has reported that 86 crewmembers have tested positive for COVID-19, and nine more crewmembers are still awaiting results.

It was reported that one crew member became ill and was taken to a hospital while the ship was docked in Bellingham. That crewmember tested positive for COVID-19 and remains in a hospital for treatment after being admitted Friday.

According to a spokesperson for American Seafoods, all crew members were tested for COVID-19 by the University of Washington before boarding the vessel. Only those who tested negative for the virus were allowed to board.

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Cruise-ShipFB-300x158We will never know exactly how many passengers and crew have been infected with COVID-19 while on cruise ships. What we do know, is that Carnival Cruise Lines plans to resume its cruise operations on August 1, 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is estimated that 30 million passengers traveled on a total of 272 cruise ships within the year (worldwide total).

According to information posted on the Carnival website, eight ships will be put back into service in late Summer. As of this posting, they include the Carnival Dream, Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Breeze, and Carnival Elation. Ports of departure include Galveston, Texas; Miami, Florida; Orlando, Florida; and others.

Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen said that the reopening of cruise ships “is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local, and international government officials. In our continued support of public health efforts, any return to service will also include whatever enhanced operational protocols and social gathering guidelines that are in place at the time of the resumption of cruise operations.”

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Astoria_FB-300x158Bornstein Seafood in Astoria, Oregon has closed until further notice due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Clatsop County Public Health began an investigation on May 4, 2020, after an employee at Bornstein Seafood tested positive for the deadly virus. More than one-third of 35 employees tested on Monday were positive for the disease. By May 5, 13 employees were ill with COVID-19, and more test results are pending. Contact tracing has begun, and workers at both Astoria plants have been asked to shelter at home until further notice.

Clatsop County Public Health reported that the 11 cases reported on Monday included four women—one aged 30-39, and three aged 40 to 49. Also testing positive were seven men—two aged 30 to 39, four aged 50 to 59, and one aged 60 to 69.

Before the outbreak occurred, a complaint was filed with OSHA by the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council against Bornstein Seafood. The complaint, filed on April 18, cited a lack of social distancing and a lack of personal protective equipment, and that some workers felt unprotected at work. With protective gear and temporal scanners in short supply, many companies are finding it challenging to procure equipment that meets county guidelines. OSHA has confirmed that the complaint is still open for investigation.

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Cordova_Alaska_aerial-300x177
Salmon fishing season is about to begin, but nothing is business as usual this year. In just a few weeks, about 400 fishermen and processing workers will arrive in Cordova, Alaska for the opening of King Salmon and Copper River Sockeye season. The town of Cordova has a full-time population of 2,100. With no road access, Cordova has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the time of this post, and while most members of the community support workers arriving for the harvest (showers and bathrooms at the community center have been repurposed to serve the influx of workers), they also want to see that quarantine recommendations and other safe practices are maintained.

No one wants a repeat of the cruise industry crisis or infamous meat-packing industry outbreaks that have recently been in the news. The spread of COVID-19 in the South Dakota Smithfield Foods pork plant has been linked to over 640 cases of the virus, and 51 cases at the Tyson Foods meat-packing plant in Pasco, Washington. These are essential businesses that failed, for a variety of reasons, to keep their workers safe.

Trident Seafoods has reported that four processing plant employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as well as two office workers. Five have recovered and one is still at home convalescing as of April 20. The company is checking employees for fever daily and furthering their sanitation efforts. In response, Trident Seafood is requiring workers to quarantine for 14 days before boarding fishing and processing vessels. Many have checked into hotels and are being monitored by healthcare workers before going to sea. Although it may seem extreme, the precautions are an indication of how seriously the fishing industry is taking this public health crisis. The companies involved are acutely aware that an outbreak aboard a vessel at sea would be disastrous.

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