Local Catch Network (LCN)

August 2020 Impact Assessment

About LCN

The Local Catch Network (LCN) is made up of fishermen and women, researchers, technical assistance providers, and community-based organizations  across North America that are committed to strengthening local- and regional seafood systems through community supported fisheries (CSFs) and other direct producer-to-consumer arrangements. We believe this work is critical for supporting healthy fisheries and the communities that depend on them. In pursuit of this work, we seek to increase the visibility and viability of small-scale fisheries and aim to provide assistance to individuals and organizations that need support envisioning, designing, and implementing locally-relevant businesses that work towards social, economic, and environmental sustainability. LCN is governed by a volunteer Executive Committee that is responsible for supporting the growth and development of the network. The network is based at the University of Maine with backbone support from the North American Marine Alliance.

Impacts of COVID-19

Seafood supply chains, like other food systems, have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the global nature of the seafood economy and the central role of China as both a processor and consumer of seafood, impacts on the US fishing sector began to be felt in early January before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported domestically and stay-at-home orders were announced. Both the disruption in international markets and the eventual closure of restaurants in the US, where 65% of consumer expenditure on seafood occurs, have caused significant decreases in the ex-vessel price of catch. For example, lobstermen in Maine are reporting prices as low as $2 to $3 per pound, compared to $4.82 last year. COVID-19 has also negatively impacted the seafood industry by creating increased uncertainty. Early in the pandemic, some fishermen experienced delayed fishing seasons (e.g. elver) while others had difficulty traveling to the fishing ports where they operate due to travel restrictions (e.g. salmon). Despite the significant challenges that the seafood sector faces, there have also been a number of “bright spots”. Year-over-year sales of processed seafood products, such as canned fish, were up by 37% in the early months of the pandemic according to the New York Times. Direct producer-to-consumer sales of seafood has also been significantly higher, with community supported fisheries across the US report record-high sales.

Obstacles to Sector Response

  • Access to resources. Early in the process many direct seafood marketing operations experienced difficulty accessing PPP and unemployment benefits.
  • Loss of markets. Many direct seafood marketing operations have had lost restaurant-based markets and other retail locations such as farmer’s markets, which temporarily closed. These outlets had previously provided an important outlet for seafood, and their closure disrupted as well as traditional seafood supply chains. This lack of demand resulted in the closure or delay of some fisheries, and in some places a loss of processing capacity where large processors temporarily closed.
  • Price uncertainty. Direct seafood marketing operations often rely on processors and seafood dealers to buy “excess” catch that they cannot sell through local markets. Many processing facilities, however, closed due to loss of international markets or as a result of health and safety issues (i.e. a number of seafood processing facilities in the US have had COVID-19 outbreaks).
  • Infrastructure. Lack of physical infrastructure has been a hindrance to resilience by ASNs. Difficulty in finding local employees (or the secondary barrier of processors not having enough employees, and thus closing) and working around COVID-19 distancing and sanitation concerns (e.g., insufficient space, etc.) have also been a significant challenge that limited ASN’s ability to adapt to new production and sales conditions.
  • Access to fishing. Some direct marketing operations have had a problem accessing fishing grounds, or have felt unsafe traveling to their fishing grounds. Those who could access the fishing grounds identified geographic access to markets as a challenge for those harvesting in remote areas who faced increased logistical barriers to getting their product to markets when transportation and travel became restricted.
  • Psychological cost. Beyond the health risk associated with COVID-19, the pandemic has taken a social and emotional toll of direct seafood marketing operations who are dealing with the uncertainty of COVID-19’s impact on their fisheries and markets, and worries about risks and responsibilities of contracting or spreading the virus, particularly to rural and remote fishing communities.  

Successful Marketing Adaptations in Response to COVID-19

  • Local seafood finders. COVID-19 has prompted numerous efforts to compile and make visible lists of direct producer-to-consumer seafood operations (see: National Fisherman, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, University of Washington). Google Analytics data from the LCN Seafood Finder, which was established in 2011, shows a 310% increase in web traffic between March 15, 2020 and May 15, 2020 compared to the previous year.
  • Dock-side pick-up sites and fishermen’s markets. Fishermen and fishing cooperatives have reported selling a significant volume of product at dock-side pick-up locations and fishermen’s markets. In places such as Rhode Island, this has been facilitated by the availability of temporary permits that allow off-boat seafood sales.
  • Seafood trails and “pick your own”. Multiple lines of evidence point to the fact that consumers started to travel further outside their homes as the spring and summer progressed. With this has come increased opportunities for on-boat and on-farm (aquaculture) sales. The Maine Oyster Trail, for example, has helped connect oyster farmers to customers. Several farms have established a “pick your own” option that gives gastronomy tourists an opportunity to hand select oysters from a farm.
  • Home delivery. Home delivery of community supported fisheries (CSF) and seafood boxes have performed well during the pandemic. Numerous CSFs in the LCN report record sales.

Economic Impact on Sector

Direct seafood marketing operations, including CSF started to report increased seafood sales in mid-March. Increased sales were primarily driven by off-dock, CSF pick-up sales, and home delivery for at-home consumption. To monitor this change, we collected Google Analytics data for CSFs across North America from January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 (1.5 years). Data shows a significant month-to-month increase in website traffic from April to June 2020 relative to the same time period in 2019. No statistical difference was observed in January, February or March, though user traffic begins to increase rapidly in the second half of March.

Impact on Sector Members

The impacts of COVID-19 on direct seafood marketing operations has been variable. Beyond personal circumstances, a range of factors have influenced operations in the early months of the pandemic.

 

Factors Negative (-) Unknown (?) Positive (+)
Timing of fishing season Later winter, early spring Summer, fall, beyond
Location of market Distal Local
Type of market Restaurant, institution Grocery store, direct to consumer
Geography Variable
Type of product Dependent on processing Previously processed, frozen, canned, or fresh/live
Species Variable
Consumer communication Intermediary Social media

 

Desired Data and Technical Assistance

Numerous surveys have been sent out to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the seafood sector in the US, but to our knowledge there has not been a targeted effort to understand the impacts of the pandemic on small- and mid-sized seafood operations engaged in local and regional seafood distribution. We view this as a significant gap that warrants attention. This sector would benefit from establishing a baseline data set that focuses on better describing the socioeconomic contributions of the sector (including number of participants, scale of operations, geographic distribution, economic impact). These data are critical to understanding how COVID-19 has impacted the sector (both positively and negatively) the sector and how future shocks will impact it.

Direct seafood marketing operations, including community supported fisheries, that link harvesters to consumers, have been identified as an important strategy that small- and mid-size seafood operations can deploy to build resilience. These operations appear to have performed quite well during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic from January to July. We see three areas where technical assistance could support the sector to successfully navigate COVID-19 and strengthen the resilience of coastal communities: (1) Support existing direct producer-to-consumer seafood businesses cohort-style trainings that are designed to support operations scale-up direct producer-to-consumer sales. (2) Support new direct producer-to-consumer seafood operations that are interested in (or recently launched direct sales) by way of facilitating peer-to-peer networking, online workshops, and providing technical experts. An important goal of this work would be to help ensure that new operators avoid mistakes that more mature operations have experienced. (3) Support the direct seafood marketing landscape. In other words, take actions to elevate the visibility of local and regional seafood efforts, acknowledging not all seafood is the same and local and regional production makes important socioeconomic and environmental contributions to society.

 

This report was written using the following information:

Dataset  Description
Interviews Qualitative interviews w/ seafood supply chain actors in North America for the new Coastal Routes / LCN podcast, Social FISHstancing (n = 61) (https://soundcloud.com/conservechange)
Newspaper review Review of newspaper articles published in North America between January 1, 2020 and present that use the key words “community supported fishery” (+ other relevant search terms).
USDA listening session Qualitative information about the impacts and innovations by local and direct seafood markets in North America (June)
LCN open forum Qualitative information about the impacts and innovations by local and direct seafood markets in North America (March)
Google Analytics data Web traffic data from CSFs across North America

Contact Information for LCN:

info@localcatch.org

Joshua Stoll   joshua.stoll@maine.edu

 

 

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