Much has been made in recent weeks of the need to protect the nation’s food supply chain, with most of the concentration centered on meat packing and processing facilities.
Many plants, ravaged by COVID-19 outbreaks, have had to curtail operations or shut down completely, which experts fear will lead to shortages and high prices in the butcher case at local supermarkets. For all the hullabaloo, however, the disruption is likely temporary, and won’t be deeply felt by consumers.
“We have so much food in America and we have so much choice that I am not worried that there will not be enough food,” Julie Niederhoff, a supply chain management expert from Syracuse University, told CNN recently. “There might not be enough of one particular brand, or one particular cut, but that the state of our food supply chain, in general, is robust.”
The same cannot be said for the already beleaguered fishing industry, which has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants are shuttered, boats are tied to the dock, and newly cost-conscious consumers are shying away from delicacies such as crab and New England lobster. In many sectors, sales in the $100 billion a year industry have dropped by 95 percent. For products such as beef and pork, a drop in sales to restaurants can be made up by shoppers stocking up for in-home meals during lockdown. That is not the case for the fishing industry, where restaurant sales more than double that of grocery store purchases.
It is becoming increasingly clear that many segments of the industry, from processors right down to family owned boats, may not survive if the federal government does not move swiftly and decisively.
There was a small bit of good news earlier this week, when the Department of Agriculture committed to buying $20 million of Atlantic haddock, cod and redfish as part of its plan to protect the food supply chain.
While welcome, that assistance — part of a $19 billion program — will not go far. The Commerce Department needs to move more quickly to get the $300 million in aid promised the industry in the CARES Act into the hands and wallets of those who need it. And Congress needs to make sure the emergency needs of the nation’s fishermen, lobstermen and seafood processors are more specifically addressed in the next relief bill.
They all play an important role in the nation’s food supply chain — and in the regional and local economy — and need to be treated as such.