The implementation of social distancing policies, restaurant dine-in prohibitions, and stay-at-home orders across the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic have severely impacted market channels for seafood consumers, recreational fishermen, and allied businesses, according to new survey results by Virginia Tech.

“The crisis has come at one of the worst times of the year for seafood producers and could have long-term consequences for aquaculture and related industries,” says Virginia Tech expert Jonathan van Senten.

Quarter one results of a new survey designed to quantify the impact COVID-19 is having on fish farms and other aquaculture and aquaponics operations revealed that 90 percent of these businesses had been impacted by the pandemic with 80 percent of them having contracts canceled for the 2020 year – losses ranging from $1,000 to $5 million.

“This is a critical time for the industry. For many aquaculture producers, spring is normally a very favorable marketing period. The loss of sales has consequences that ripple throughout the business, affecting everything from employment, addressing existing liabilities, and preparing for future crops. Revenue losses could put producers out of business. Even for those that survive this immediate crisis, the financial effects will have longer-term consequences that will affect aquaculture farms well into the future.”

Van Senten also says that losses could be felt by seafood consumers, recreational fishermen, and wildlife ecosystems at large.

“Some aquaculture products take several years before they reach market size, and interruption in planting or stocking today will be felt somewhere in the future. Aquaculture producers also grow more than food – some aquaculture products end up as pets, are stocked for recreational fishing, or support the conservation and management of wild fish populations. This side of the industry is also affected by the pandemic, which will have impacts on the availability of those products.”

Van Senten and his colleague Matthew Smith from Ohio State University are gathering survey responses at the end of each quarter in 2020 to assess the short- and long-term impacts that COVID-19 is having on the aquaculture industry. Research findings include regional information as well as data about specific species groups, such as mollusks, catfish, trout, among others. Results are being shared with state and federal agencies to measure economic impact.

Written by Jillian Broadwell

Background

Van Senten is an assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is based at the Virginia Seafood Agriculture and Research Extension Center in Hampton, Virginia. His research focuses on providing comprehensive information about the costs and impacts of regulations on seafood producers throughout the U.S.

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To secure a live or recorded video interview with Jonathan van Senten, email Bill Foy or Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at Virginia Tech.

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