By Chris Branam, OSU Extension Communications
CORVALLIS, Ore. – When COVID-19 initially struck Asia, many fisheries in Oregon lost their export markets in late January 2020 because of canceled Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. Prices for Dungeness crab stagnated at a time when they normally would be rising.
When the virus spread to the West Coast, Oregon’s seafood industry felt shock waves immediately. Most Americans eat seafood in restaurants, and Oregon’s “Stay at Home, Save Lives,” orders shuttered in-person dining in March. Some vessels cut their seasons short.
Amid this backdrop, a trio of faculty with Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon State University Extension Service went to work. Amanda Gladics, Angee Doerr and Jamie Doyle designed an electronic survey that was in the field from April 22 to June 1 and that aimed to understand how the pandemic was affecting seafood harvesters, processors and retailers.
They received 131 completed surveys, primarily from seafood-based businesses and individuals on the Oregon coast. The findings have helped guide Oregon Sea Grant Extension’s response.
“We didn’t have the power to magically fix these problems, but we quickly realized we had the tools and training to document the impacts and inform the recovery process,” said Doerr, a marine fisheries specialist in Newport.
Nearly all respondents – 95% – reported that they or their business had already been impacted by COVID-19. The respondents were highly reliant on their work in Oregon’s seafood industry, with an average of 83% of their household income tied to their work in seafood.
Workers most frequently reported experiencing loss of income as a result of COVID-19. They expected job losses and difficulties balancing family and work to be critical challenges as the pandemic progressed.
“The survey was something we just had to do,” said Gladics, a coastal fisheries specialist in Astoria. “We didn’t want to charge off into doing something to help without knowing what was needed. We wanted to know what would actually be helpful.”
According to Doyle, a coastal community development specialist in Coos Bay, it was notable that almost no respondents wanted business training or workshops or business advising. So she and her colleagues steered their efforts away from that.
What they did realize was that efforts were needed to help the state’s seafood industry access new markets through consumer education. So they partnered with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon seafood industry on an initiative called Eat Oregon Seafood, which includes an online presence.
In addition to showing where to buy local seafood via an interactive map, the webpages offer tips on when and what types of seafood to purchase and how to freeze, smoke and prepare it at home. The site also has a growing archive of recipes. There’s also a promotional campaign on social media that features the hashtag #EatOregonSeafood.
“We wanted to expand the seafood market beyond restaurants, to make seafood more approachable and attractive for the home chef,” Doerr said. “We knew there were a lot of potential pathways and we wanted to make sure we were doing what was best for our stakeholders. Eat Oregon Seafood was the right thing at the right time.”
You can learn more about their work supporting Oregon’s seafood industry amid COVID-19 in this video.