Coronavirus having an impact on commercial fishing industry

Published: Apr. 8, 2020 at 7:53 PM EDT
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With many seafood restaurants in eastern Carolina limited in operations, or closed, commercial fishermen are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic right in their pockets.

And while local seafood shops like B&J Seafood in New Bern are still in business, the concern for the future is being felt in the present.

"Right now our biggest concern in the seafood business is continuing to maintain good markets, so that the guys have confidence that they can go fish, and when they get in they can sell their product," explains Brent Fulcher, the owner of B&J's.

But maintaining those markets has been a challenge.

Fulcher estimates 50% of their harvests are ultimately sold to restaurant owners.

But many of those owners have been forced to adjust operations, or close all together.

"Some restaurants are able to operate takeout only, but seafood isn't typically a takeout type 'venue,' so a lot of seafood restaurants aren't able to accommodate that," Fulcher adds.

One restaurant owner that hasn't been able to accommodate, is Captain Ratty's owner Tom Ballance.

After just two days of takeout orders, Ballance was forced to temporarily close his doors, and furlough his entire staff. He just wasn't bringing in enough revenue.

"As we tried, I was selling maybe $300.00 worth of stuff a day, and spending $240.00, and so that wasn't paying the electric or paying anything," Ballance explains.

Persimmon's owner Dean Quadir says they have been fortunate to remain open, but it hasn't come without some changes.

"One of our biggest concerns is, we do a lot of fresh seafood dishes, which are great when you're serving them on a hot plate, but that doesn't translate to takeout," says Quadir.

Along with adjusting their takeout menu, Quadir says they have even been offering cooking-at-home meal kits to create extra revenue.

And though Fulcher says commercial fisherman have seen an increase in business at the retail level, every day is a new day of uncertainty.

"Fisherman don't know whether to fish or not, so we're really trying to add a lot of stability and give them dedicated markets to push forward."

Fulcher, part of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, says they have also been working to provide lists of local retail stores and seafood packing operations that are still open so that fishermen know where they can sell their product if places they typically work with have closed.

He adds that measures taken by the state's Department of Agriculture, as well as money earmarked for the commercial sector in the stimulus package will help offset lost revenue for fisherman in the state.