Survey Shows Extent of COVID-19 Impact to East Coast Fishermen

By Kirk Moore.

Up to 40 percent of fishermen from Maine to North Carolina suspended their operations in spring 2020 as the covid-19 pandemic collapsed the seafood market, according to new findings from a Rutgers University study.

“A lot of what we found was that in the early months of the pandemic a lot of fishermen were not fishing, or waiting it out,” said Sarah Lindley Smith, a post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers, a longtime center of research into the social and community effects of changing fisheries.

An online survey in spring 2020 brought responses from 258 Northeast fishermen and the results are published in the science journal PLOS One. Covering the critical early pandemic weeks of March to June 2020, the researchers also looked at landings reports and found that catches for some species like squid and scallops declined compared with the same time period of previous years.

But some other landings, including black sea bass and haddock, were on par or even higher than earlier years. Alongside their survey results, the researchers say that suggests some fishermen kept fishing hard even as they earned less.

“Groundfishermen were more likely to continue fishing” than those in other fisheries, said Smith. Even as the dominant restaurant market – accounting for 70 percent of U.S. seafood sales – vanished in those early months, local retail demand especially in New England helped keep crews working to find cod and haddock.