The seafood sector is rapidly coming to terms with life in lockdown.

The recognition as an essential service comes with the proviso that health and anti-virus precautions are paramount.

Catching and processing is proceeding on a reduced scale, with supermarkets the only approved fish retail outlets.

New Zealand’s favourite takeaways – fish’n’chips – are off the menu, dampening domestic demand.

The export market is fluid, likened to “whack-a-mole” by one player, where one market might close and another open, although air freight space is problematic. 

Seafood NZ staff have been working closely with officials and sending out a daily update, which has received wide appreciation.

There has been some confusion between Ministry for Primary Industries and Ministry of Health guidelines but the latter are not designed for food processing.

The relevant MPI advice that seafood companies are operating to is a two-metre distance between workers, but where that is not possible, a minimum of one-metre and staff wearing personal protective equipment is required.

Masks and gloves are not specified but are the norm.

“We need to protect our staff at work in the same way as if they were at home,” Sanford chief executive Volker Kuntzsch said.

He is delivering a video message to all Sanford staff every day with a consistent message on health and safety.

All Black Jerome Kaino, celebrity chef Annabel Langbein and Newshub journalist Amanda Gillies are among others to contribute.

All-staff email and Facebook accounts have also been set up, along with an emergency text and a take-home newsletter and poster pack that includes colouring-in for the kids.

Overseas countries are looking to shore up their seafood sectors.

The Australian Government this week delivered a $110 million emergency relief package to protect livelihoods and businesses.

That will fund 200 flights, each carrying 40 tonnes of seafood to key markets in China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

The major beneficiary will be the Western Australia rock lobster industry, with $500 million of live product now able to be sold.

The charter aircraft will back fill with medical supplies and other equipment.

The Federal Government is further assisting the seafood industry by waiving Australian Fisheries Management Authority fees and charges, totalling about $10 million.

In this country Seafood NZ has sought relief from Ministry for Primary industries/Fisheries NZ cost recovery levies, particularly where requirements such as observers are reduced or not being delivered.

One of the safest places to avoid virus transmission is at sea, assuming no one was infected in the first place, and the Southern Ocean squid season is in full swing.

Fourteen vessels are currently operating in the 16th week of the season.

There have been 1321 tows and almost total observer coverage (99 percent). No sealion mortalities have been reported.

Skippers are being urged to be kind to observers who may suffer from “cabin fever” if having to stay aboard and do more trips than usual.

In Bluff it is Sod’s Law that the weather over the past week has been gorgeous but the 12-strong oyster fleet is tied up.

Barnes Oysters head Graeme Wright said the season, which had started so promisingly, was under review and if there was sufficient demand the shareholders would look to meet it.

The sold-out Bluff oyster festival has been cancelled.

Despite the many challenges, the seafood industry is well placed to help lead the country out of the current dire situation.

With tourism and education taking such a chunk out of GDP, it is the primary sector that will rescue the economy and our wellbeing.

We need to capitalise on that.

 

After nearly 300 Captain’s Blogs written for the weekly Update it’s time to sign off.

Dr Jeremy Helson takes over as Seafood NZ chief executive from Monday.

I will keep my hand in editing the Seafood magazine and look forward to covering the many issues and advances in our vibrant industry and profiling some of its many characters.

It has been a privilege.

 

Tim Pankhurst