China has stopped imports from European salmon suppliers due to fears of a connection between salmon imports and coronavirus, according to a report by Reuters. State-run newspapers in China reported the coronavirus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon at a market in Beijing. The initial cluster of infections came from the same market, and some fear the discovery of virus there indicates a second wave of the coronavirus in China.
Several fisheries organizations are pushing back against those reports. The National Fisheries Institute compiled statements on Tuesday from health professionals and agencies like the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration saying there is no connection between seafood and COVID-19.
Fish marketing experts are assessing how the rumors could affect Alaska salmon’s image in the world. If people think eating salmon could put them at increased risk of contracting the virus — even if that information is incorrect — that could harm markets.
“Any time there’s information or misinformation, we have to wait and see how consumers respond to that,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.
China made up roughly 6% of the market for Bristol Bay sockeye in 2019. It imported about 3,100 metric tons of the region’s reds. While that’s not a huge customer base, Wink says, it’s still important, especially in terms of the potential growth it represents. The market for salmon is expected to be weaker than it has been, because of coronavirus-related restaurant closures.
“You know, I think we’ll have to wait and see to what extent — if this impacts market demand outside of China, and, you know, if it impacts consumer demand in other markets in the U.S. and Europe and Japan where we have a much larger market share and many more consumers,” he said.
Wink says that if necessary, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association will work with other marketing groups to distribute accurate information to consumers.
In an email, Ashley Heimbigner with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute pointed out that multiple agencies have said there is no known link between seafood, food or food packaging and transmission of coronavirus. She also said Chinese officials issued a statement yesterday confirming that there was no evidence that salmon was the host or a carrier of COVID-19.
“While there was an immediate negative reaction in the imported salmon supply chain, a short term correction is expected following this official statement,” she said.
She said that Alaska’s largest challenge with the Chinese market continues to be the 32-40% final tariffs on most seafood, including salmon, when it’s imported into China for domestic consumption.