Seafood Workers at increased risk for COVID-19 during pandemic, according to research

New research by The University of New Hampshire shows that seafood workers saw a greater risk of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

According to a release from the university, the research looked at the direct, and indirect effects, of the global pandemic on U.S. seafood workers by tracking cases and outbreaks. 

They found that seafood workers were twice as likely to contract COVID-19 as workers in other food industries.

“The U.S. seafood industry was hit pretty hard, especially workers in high-density workplaces like seafood processing plants where social distancing was difficult,” said Easton White, assistant professor of biological sciences. “Even though COVID-19 precautions were set in place reducing the number of workers on processing lines it meant longer shifts and increased exposure overall. Fishing vessels had similar issues, where crews on crowded boats faced challenges wearing PPE, or masks, in wet and windy conditions.”

In the study, recently published in the journal PeerJ Life & Environment, researchers show how U.S. seafood workers were disproportionately affected by COVID-19, highlighting the various direct and indirect effects of the virus and tracking the number of cases and outbreaks. 

They reviewed news reports, scientific articles and white papers and found most cases of COVID-19 among the seafood workers were reported during the height of the pandemic, in the summer of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, and the majority were among workers involved in seafood processing who tend to work in close proximity to each other for long hours. 

Cases of COVID-19 were found in all U.S. coastal areas but Alaska, home to 60% of the U.S. commercial fisheries, experienced the largest number of outbreaks. 

Researchers say they also noticed more physical and mental taxing conditions like concerns about workplace safety, contracting COVID-19, access to medical services, vaccination and paid sick leave. They also took into consideration the economic consequences of the pandemic including changes in markets, supply and demand, in addition to revenue loss, price fluctuations, supply chain issues and labor shortages.

“We hope this research sets the foundation for future practices in the seafood sector in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, improving the overall workplace and recognizing the importance of collecting systematic social and economic data about workers,” said White.