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Processors lay out plan to keep fishery safe, as Naknek Village Council asks governor to take action

Sage Smiley/KDLG

In a letter to Bristol Bay communities, 11 companies outlined safety protocols for the season. The Naknek Native Village Council, meanwhile, has echoed Dillingham's request that the governor take immediate action to ensure residents' safety during the pandemic. 

The big processors gearing up to operate in Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery this summer have laid out aspects of their safety protocols that they say will allow them to participate safely in the upcoming season amid the coronavirus pandemic.


“We are writing to you to confirm our commitment that we are prioritizing the health and safety of the communities and tribal councils of Bristol Bay,” the processors say. 


The eleven companies are North Pacific Seafoods, Alaska General Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, E&E Foods, Leader Creek Fisheries, Deep Sea Fisheries and Copper River Seafoods. 


The companies say all employees will be verbally screened before being given flight information. Workers will also be medically screened at the Anchorage or Seattle airports, and people won’t be allowed in or out of the processor campuses. Employees arriving from other locations must comply with a 14-day quarantine.


The processors also say that each company has the capacity to isolate and care for employees who develop COVID-19 symptoms. 


“We will work closely with Camai Community Health Center to keep employees safely isolated from the community while still ensuring they receive proper medical care,” they write.


Employees will be medically screened before the start of each work shift. Processors say they will also try to keep social distancing measures in place as much as possible: they’ll stagger coffee and meal breaks, ban group gatherings, and limit the number of plant workers that do necessary business with the local community.  


An industry task force has set guidelines for participating seafood companies and other stakeholders to use. The processors say that they will incorporate those guidelines into their individual plans, seven of which are posted on the Bristol Bay Borough’s website. 


The processors also note that their list of precautions is not definitive. Plans will continue to evolve as the situation changes, and through discussion with communities and tribal councils, the companies write. 


The processors’ letter came a day after Dillingham’s city and tribal councils sent a joint letter to the governor urging him to take action to protect local residents from the risk of COVID-19 carried by the fishing industry. 


The Naknek Native Village Council is also urging the governor to put extreme protective measures in place at once or consider closing the fishery. In a letter released Tuesday, the tribe echoed Dillingham’s city and tribal councils. 


“The Tribal Organizations of Naknek, King Salmon, and South Naknek, consider this pandemic to be of utmost importance. Our people, and our culture are at risk. We have worked diligently and taken extreme precautionary measures to limit exposure of COVID-19 to our communities and residents; and we are prepared to take more stringent measures,” it writes.  


The tribe also points out that there is no hospital in its community, and extremely limited medical resources and infrastructure. 

“Continuing with this commercial season goes against everything we've been educated to do to prevent a COVID outbreak,” it writes. “There is no way to prevent a potential mass disease situation when processors employ several thousand people, working in close proximity, living in bunk houses, confined to closed campus style operations. We must consider that a potential mass-outbreak would be disastrous.”


In a press conference Tuesday, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said that the state was in an “ongoing conversation” with communities, tribes, processors and fishermen. 


As of Thursday morning no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the region. 


Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
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