NOAA Fisheries Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update
NOAA Fisheries is actively monitoring and adjusting to the COVID-19 national health crisis.
Agency Priorities During COVID-19
COVID-19 significantly altered the environment related to the management of the nation’s fisheries and the protection and recovery of living marine resources. The situation also required adding crisis-related activities to our portfolio in addition to normal operations. What remains though is our science-based management of U.S. fisheries as a global model for marine stewardship and sustainability. And, as we resume core missions, including at-sea operations in 2021, we will focus on the areas with the greatest need.
NOAA Fisheries leaders share their perspectives on agency priorities and challenges during COVID-19:
- Cisco Werner, Director of Scientific Programs and Chief Science Advisor, provides an overview of science priorities and challenges in 2021
- Sam Rauch, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, provides an overview of management priorities and challenges in 2021
Impacts to U.S. Fishing and Seafood Industry
The U.S. fishing and seafood sector experienced broad declines in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis. COVID-19 protective measures instituted in March 2020 across the United States and globe contributed to an almost-immediate impact on seafood sector sales. Revenues declined each month from a 19 percent decrease in March to a 45 percent decrease by July. Restaurant closures, social distancing protocols, and other safety measures also contributed to losses in other sectors of the seafood economy. The protective measures also impacted charter fishing operations, aquaculture, aquaponics, and allied businesses. International markets were negatively affected by disruptions in harvesting, processing and shipping. U.S. seafood exports declined 18 percent in value in the January to June period, when compared to the past five years.
Activities Related to NOAA Fisheries Mission
NOAA Fisheries is actively monitoring and adjusting to the COVID-19 national health crisis. Ensuring the health and safety of our employees, partners, and broader fishing community during this crisis is a priority. We remain fully operational with much of our workforce teleworking. We will continue to fulfill our mission, maintaining our nation's seafood supply and protecting marine life.
We are fully committed to providing quality seafood inspection services to the seafood industry in the safest and most efficient way possible during COVID-19.
For updated information related to COVID-19 and seafood safety, please visit the following organizations:
Closures, Cancellations, Changes
Out of an abundance of caution, our facilities are closed to the public. This includes the following:
All public in-person events are canceled or rescheduled. Meetings and workshops essential to our agency’s mission will be virtual when feasible.
Marine Mammal Protection
There is currently no evidence to support claims that whales, sea lions, or other marine mammals are infected with COVID-19.
Reporting Marine Animal Stranding or Entanglement
The public should continue to report all sightings of stranded animals to the appropriate contact number for your location. Our marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network partners are making operational decisions based on COVID-19 that may impact the ability to respond to strandings and entanglement incidents. As always, if you see a stranded marine mammal or sea turtle, keep people and pets back a safe distance of 150 feet.
Fishery Observers/At-Sea Monitors
Observers and monitors are an essential component of commercial fishing operations and provide critical information that is necessary to keep fisheries open and to provide sustainable seafood to our nation during this time. We recognize the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and as such, it has required us to adapt to changing circumstances.
Marine Recreational Fisheries Data Collection
NOAA Fisheries, with the help of its federal, state, and regional partners, uses a number of different Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) surveys to measure the number of fish and fishing trips taken by saltwater anglers. As a result of COVID-19, 20 state MRIP partners suspended, reduced, or modified their in-person shoreside and at-sea catch rate surveys between March and August. As of August 1, all of the program's state partners had resumed shore, private boat, and charter boat sampling through the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey, or APAIS. However, at-sea headboat sampling remains suspended, and safety protocols continue to impact APAIS field interviewers’ ability to intercept anglers at high-activity sites and weigh and measure individual fish.
Given the extent of these data gaps and the expectation that COVID-19 will continue to impact sampling over the course of the year, the agency will not publish preliminary catch estimates for March-December 2020. Instead, we will review the catch data our partners are able to collect in 2020 as a whole before selecting an estimation approach and publishing final catch estimates in April 2021, in accordance with our standard publication schedule.
This unforeseen challenge to recreational fishing data collection and the production of catch estimates is being evaluated by fisheries managers to determine the best way to address in-season Accountability Measures and/or determine appropriate management measures for 2021.
Mail-in and telephone surveys, such as the Fishing Effort Survey and the For-Hire Survey, are still being conducted. Preliminary shore, private boat, and for-hire effort estimates are still being published on a wave-by-wave basis. We expect the information gathered by these surveys to help illustrate, though not fully quantify, the impact of COVID-19 on recreational fishing activity.
On May 7, 2020, the Secretary of Commerce announced the allocation of $300 million in fisheries assistance funding provided by Sec. 12005 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also called the CARES Act, to states, Tribes, and territories with coastal and marine fishery participants who have been negatively affected by COVID–19.
Section 12005 of the CARES Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to provide $300 million in appropriated funds to assist fishery participants affected by the novel coronavirus. NOAA Fisheries understands the urgent need for these funds, and our overriding goal is to distribute the assistance as quickly as possible. To that end, we are working daily with the Department and our federal partners to finalize a process to expedite the distribution of Sec. 12005 funds, consistent with the direction provided by Congress. We will post details about the process for stakeholders and partners here.
Other provisions in the CARES Act will help NOAA maintain continuity of operations and support the continued success of our nation’s fisheries. The $20 million identified for NOAA is essential for continued provision of life saving services and for keeping our workforce safe.