News & Views
Editorial: Hatcheries starting to feel effects of pandemic
By Mari-Len De Guzman
A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, our team at Hatchery International and our sister publications Aquaculture North America and RAStech magazine, wanted to hear from our readers about how this global health crisis has affected their business and their operations.
So many news stories have come out about the economic consequences of COVID-19 and many of them tell a dire story across major industries, as businesses remain close or operate under limited capacity, and hundreds of thousands of workers laid off and small businesses lose their livelihoods.
How has COVID-19 affected hatcheries, many of which are dependent on the business viability of fish and shellfish farms? How have social distancing and de-risking measures affected stocking and enhancement programs? What are the most pressing challenges hatcheries are facing as this global pandemic continues?
We posed these questions to our readers in a short survey we sent out a few weeks ago. The responses reflect a growing concern among the sector that if the current situation lingers, the long-term consequences can be devastating.
One shellfish hatchery in Washington state, which rely on farmers’ seed orders for their business told us that sales have been “very low” since the pandemic began. They are hopeful that funding relief from the government will help them weather this challenge.
But the concern is real that, “by the time relief funding is available, our hatcheries would have had to close and seed will be wasted.”
The concerns are not just economic, however. Not-for-profit stock enhancement agencies are worried that labour challenges due to physical distancing measures and health risk concerns will significantly impact enhancement activities. As with commercial hatcheries, financial challenges are also worrisome.
“We are partially funded by municipalities in our county, who are all in spending freezes already,” said a respondent from a not-for-profit shellfish organization on the U.S. east coast. “If more than 20 percent of our member towns drop out, it will cause financial stress for the organization. If a loss of members were to continue more than one fiscal year we could go under. Our seed is used for local wild stock enhancement, which is just as important now, as local people may need to harvest shellfish to reduce their food bills.”
Indications point to a prolonged pandemic that is having a ripple effect downstream to hatcheries and egg producers. It is likely that COVID-19 is going to stick around for at least a couple more seasons – or until a suitable vaccine becomes available. It has already fundamentally changed not just our way of life but the way businesses and organizations operate to stay afloat.
Now more than ever, the industry must be united in finding ways to help each other get through this crisis. We are all in this together.
In speaking with some hatcheries and fish farmers, it is evident some are doing well and have not suffered the same losses as others. Sharing best practices on how to navigate this pandemic through industry associations or social media groups will be meaningful and helpful.
This is the time to come together as an industry to get us through this crisis.
Have you got a story tip or a hatchery operation with a great story to tell? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.