Seafood processing plants navigate state's COVID-19 health mandates
As Alaska’s commercial fishing season gets underway for the summer, thousands of fishermen and processing plant workers are set to arrive in coastal communities from outside the state. And with that, a concern that visitors could spread COVID-19 in rural parts of the state that may have limited health-care facilities.
The common theme among people who work in the industry is that this year’s season will be different as it navigates the state’s ongoing COVID-19 health mandates.
Trident Seafoods is the largest seafood company in the country and has its own system in place to keep workers and Alaskans safe.
“We are doing everything possible with sanitation, social distancing, doing all we can, and all that, so far, knock on wood, we have, anybody who has been through our quarantine process or testing has not come up positive once we have sent them out into the field,” Victor Scheibert, the president of Alaska operations for Trident Seafoods said.
Its workers quarantine in Anchorage for fourteen days and the company is picking up the cost of the hotel.
“That is what we are trying to avoid is sending anybody who, and so far, all these people have been asymptomatic, so that is the whole reason for doing what we are doing, to try not to send people that can shed the virus out into the communities, to the plants that we are operating,” Scheibert said.
Seven or eight workers have tested positive while in quarantine, but are not allowed to leave until they retest and are negative. One employee also tested positive in Dillingham.
“We really feel like this is the gold standard for what you can do, so far I'd have to say it has worked out, very well, like I said it comes to a great expense to our company, but we feel like it is the best thing recommended to protect the people and the communities and also our own employees, so hopefully we don't have any outbreaks in our plants after we do this,” he said.
The company hires nearly 6,000 employees for the summer season in Alaska. It has ten processing plants and 41 vessels statewide.
One of the plants is located in Kodiak, where employment is less seasonal than any other fishing area. More than 60 percent of the town’s processing workers live in Kodiak, which could be an asset this year when non-resident workers could be hard to come by.
“Kodiak will be a bigger challenge for us there because all the employees aren't housed in our own housing, some of them, quite a few of them live locally, so that is a challenge just like a lot of the other plants,” he added.