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Frigid temperatures brought more ice fishing opportunities closer to the shoreline, as this one Guilford lake illustrates. (Photo courtesy of B. Andes )
Bitter cold froze much of the East River, but oddly enough, a small school of baitfish surfaced one flood tide and was gone the next. Photo (Illustration courtesy of Captain Morgan )
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continued its analysis of the public health crisis and its effect on sections of United States fishing industries. According to its analysis, there were broad declines that varied by sector, region, and industry. According to NOAA, it is hopeful that the data put forth in its report can be meaningful in assisting “businesses and communities to assess losses and inform long-term recovery and resilience strategies.”
The sectors focused on were commercial, recreational, and aquaculture, serving as an update to an earlier assessment by including economic changes felt by the fishing industry. As the country began phasing in re-openings, it was apparent that with the decline of production, there were also deep cuts on the financial end.
Because of closures to ports and seafood processing facilities in China, U.S. exports to China decreased by 32 percent, then by 45 percent. This was a hard blow to the restaurant industry that quickly trickled down to the rest of the seafood industry, including aquaculture and the for-hire (charter and head boat) fishing sector.
Preliminary data suggests that overall commercial fisheries landings declined 34 percent early on and proceeded to drop by 45 percent, while revenues declined by 29 percent. In the Northeast, landings revenue declined by 49 percent. Although grocery sales remained strong, overall losses were substantial since more than 70 percent of all seafood is consumed in restaurants. This trend especially continued across all of the high-value species as closures and social distancing protocols waffled in conjunction with spikes in the pandemic.
Early on, 90 percent of aquaculture and related businesses were affected by COVID-19 and 84 percent lost sales. Summer figures indicated that 78 percent were affected and 74 percent lost sales. Many businesses indicated that holding excess product with the hopes of the market opening up was too risky and too expensive considering smaller oysters headed for the half-shell market needed to be harvested to make room for next year’s crop.
Many variables affected the seafood industry, including precautionary measures that needed to be in place, such as travel restrictions, disruptions in harvesting, processing, restaurant closures, and decreases in airfreight availability. While fresh product exports had steeper declines when compared to frozen products, canned and pouched tuna imports increased at first by 25 percent and then by 49 percent as demand and availability rose. During this period, global markets saw disruptions, and domestic harvests by seafood dealers and processors declined, leading to reduced sales in the Northeast (44 percent), Southeast (55 percent}, and Hawaii (43 percent). To help offset losses, some opted for direct sales from vessels or from wholesale to retail.
Although recreational fishing became an outlet for many attempting to escape the confines of the pandemic, the for-hire (charter sector) industry wasn’t immune to its economic impact. For starters, charter fishing operations in most coastal states was shut down starting in mid-March before gradually reopening under strict protocols. As some restrictions eased, demand increased, but was still down 35 percent. A recent survey showed that 87 percent of charter and party operations had reduced revenue due to COVID-related closures and protocols. On average, sales in the Northeast were down 58 percent from 2019 levels.
Areas like Alaska and Hawaii that rely heavily on out-of-state tourism were greatly depressed. In Hawaii, for example, the visitor count was down 99 percent. Add postponements or cancellation of tournaments to the list and many operations were left with little recourse to recoup losses.
In Long Island Sound, we did manage a reasonably productive recreational fishing season, but even that was hampered by challenging weather, a shortage of bluefish, and restrictions on striped bass. While the Northeast commercial fishery had a strong start, it was still down by 34 percent with most losses occurring pre-summer. Of all the important fisheries, American lobster and sea scallops were the heaviest industries hit—70 percent of all losses.
It should be pointed out that currently there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2, the disease that causes COVID-19, can infect aquatic food animals, meaning that they do not play a direct role in spreading it to humans, according to a peer-reviewed paper published in Asian Fisheries Science. Contact email@example.com for the link.
It also should be pointed out that losses incurred by the fishing and seafood industry can be partially offset with $300 million in funds provided under the CARES Act. Additionally, there have been specific relief management measures for fishers to expand the fishing season or to increase flexibility in operations. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has and will continue to take its toll, but in the long run, we will prevail.
On the Ice
Coming off of January’s Full Wolf Moon, we saw more of a traditional winter as temperatures took a nosedive into single digits and snow mounted alongside gusty winds and sloppy sea conditions. As a result of the cold temperature shift, more lakes and ponds developed ice that turned on the flow of ice fishers. What was once scattered activity on the ice became more consistent with the colder temps. Both tipups and jigging sticks were put into play as territories were marked off. Largemouth bass, yellow perch, black crappie, pickerel, and northern pike were beginning to be pulled through the ice holes with a lot more frequency. Several of the local spots actually saw some decent black ice for the first time this season.
Needless to say, the shock temperatures put a damper on striped bass action in the main tidal rivers, and much of the nighttime fishing will probably switch to daytime as water temps have a better opportunity to warm. Trout and Atlantic salmon fishing were also affected due to fewer anglers partaking, rather than the fish easing. As we delve deeper into February, we will have to wait and see how long the ice fishing season extends, at least along southern Connecticut. In the meantime, north of I-84 and sections north of I-95 continue to be the best bets, while along the shoreline, we will have to exercise caution as we approach what may only be hard water.
Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and international fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.
For all things fishy including fishing trips, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days, located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.