A few silver and green fish lie on the floor strewn with scales.The global pandemic is hurting the seafood industry, and American fishmongers may flounder without more government aid, according to the largest study of COVID-19’s impacts on U.S. fisheries.

The new study, published Nov. 23 in the journal Fish and Fisheries, found that monthly fresh seafood exports declined up to 43% compared to last year, while monthly imports fell up to 37%, and catches dropped 40% in some months.

Additionally, over the first six months of 2020, total U.S. seafood exports were down 20% and imports were down 6%, compared to the same period last year. Further losses are likely as restrictions increase to address COVID-19.

For context, over one million U.S. seafood workers regularly produce more than $4 billion in annual exports, much of which is processed overseas and imported back to the U.S.

While seafood data often takes several months — or longer — to compile, the research team, including Trevor Branch of the University of Washington, used pioneering methods to quickly determine the pandemic’s impacts on fisheries. U.S. Congress received preliminary data from the study in September.

“COVID-19 is a huge risk to the big factory boats that both catch and process fish in our waters — this combines the worst risks of cruise ships and meat plants. Their workers need priority access to the new vaccines,” said Branch, associate professor in the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

The study used traditional and novel sources of data, from NOAA fisheries reports and federal customs data, to anonymous commercial web location data made available to researchers studying COVID-19, and a comprehensive database of news and trends — created by University of Vermont students — tracking the pandemic’s impacts on fisheries, from plant closures and outbreaks to travel restrictions on seafood laborers.

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