On May 31st, American Seafoods released a statement that crew members of the American Dynasty tested positive for COVID-19. In all, 94 crew members were confirmed positive for the virus. Soon after, it was reported that two more out of American Seafoods’ six total trawlers had crew members test positive for coronavirus, including four crew members on the F/T American Triumph and 21 crew members on the F/T Northern Jaeger. These reports rattled the commercial fishing industry. All three trawlers were docked in Seattle, where the vessels were sanitized, and crew members were tested. American Seafoods has not stated whether or not these trawlers would head north to the Bering Sea to fish for pollack.
In light of the evolving coronavirus crisis, American Seafoods had worked with health consultants to create a plan to keep their workers safe. This plan initially required a five-day quarantine before heading to sea. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, it can take individuals up to 14 days to show symptoms of COVID-19. Before the F/T American Dynasty went to sea, none of the crew members were symptomatic, but it only took two weeks onboard for almost three-quarters of the crew members to become infected. After push-back, American Seafoods changed its policy on June 5th to include a 14-day quarantine. A 14-day quarantine is in line with state and federal guidelines and other commercial fishing companies.
All the trawlers that reported crew members infected with COVID-19 underwent the five-day quarantine. In addition, a fourth trawler, the F/T Ocean Rover, also only underwent a five-day quarantine before leaving Washington state. According to Anchorage Daily News, crew members on the F/T Ocean Rover were worried about asymptomatic carriers and a potential outbreak. Crewmembers and their families wanted the F/T Ocean Rover to be tested in Bellingham, Washington before headed up to Alaska.
Because the trawler had already been at sea for a month and there were no signs of the virus, American Seafoods declined the crewmembers’ request, and the vessel continued to Alaska. On June 14th, the F/T Ocean Rover docked in Dutch Harbor, and the 121 crew members were screened and tested, if warranted. Sixteen individuals were tested for COVID-19, but luckily, none tested positive. After American Seafoods cleared the trawler, it offloaded its frozen product and returned to sea.
The coronavirus outbreak on the F/T American Dynasty showed how quickly the virus can spread on commercial fishing vessels. Crew members work long hours in close quarters and a contained environment. Now that the trawlers have moved to Alaska, another coronavirus outbreak on an American Seafoods ship could be disastrous, because the smaller Alaskan fishing ports do not have the same health care resources as Washington State. A COVID-19 outbreak has the potential to quickly overwhelm the health care system in rural Alaska.