As COVID cases surge in China, seafood processing sector braces for impact: Intrafish

The Chinese government’s decision to ease restrictions on public movement and negative test requirements may have unintended consequences for seafood reprocessing.

John Evans: Intrafish

Seafood companies shipping product to China for reprocessing face uncertainty in the coming months as the country faces a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases.

The recent easing restrictions on public movement and negative test requirements last month followed a wave of protests that resulted from boiling frustration built up at China’s almost three-year “zero tolerance” policy.

A bulletin by Freightos, an online booking platform for international shipping, noted that the recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions in China has led to a reduction in available labor and growing delays at some key hubs, in part sparked by inclement weather.

This was confirmed by Thailand-based seafood supply giant Siam Canadian’s general manager in China, Landy Chow.

“I have 13 people in my office, seven were COVID-19 positive last week,” Chow told IntraFish.

Perhaps more worryingly, owners are considering only re-opening seafood processing plants after the Chinese New Year holiday celebrations.

Initially, many factories planned to re-open on Feb. 7. However, there is now discussions that companies will delay two to three more weeks

“They are worried that when all the employees come back to the factories, most of them might get a fever and as a result, they might have to shut down the production again,” Chow said.

This mirrors previous events during the global pandemic.

Because of stringent COVID-19 checks on goods entering China, getting fishmeal, seafood and many other products into and through the country’s port system became highly challenging and sometimes nightmarish after the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

More recently, processing plants in Zuanghe, the city of Dalian’s main seafood processing district, suffered long months of shutdowns after they began closing their doors in November 2021.

After shutdowns in April and May last year in the port of Shanghai, things improved again.

Joe Rosenberg, co-president of shrimp specialist Censea, said the developments look eerily familiar.

“I would not be surprised if COVID was causing labor-related disruptions, much as it did in the US in late 2021 and early 2022,” he said.

“Chinese New Year, which will result in business closures during the second half of January, is also a factor as many exporters try to ship goods prior to the holiday.”

Ecuadorian and Indian shrimp exporters bore the brunt of COVID-19 related days at the height of the pandemic, with consignments found to have traces of the virus on packaging rejected and containers ensnared in heavy port congestion.

Jose Antonio Camposano, president of Ecuadorian shrimp producers’ trade body Camara Nacional de Aquacultura (CNA), said that as of now, the Ecuadorian sector is not concerned.

A US-based Indian shrimp importer said the loosening of COVID-19 related testing requirements has seen some procedures returning to normal. So far, there have been no additional hiccups or delays as a result, either.

“We don’t see that, at least on the shrimp side of the imports,” the importer said. “The pricing and demand, however, are low but expected to improve in the coming weeks.”

Another 20 to 30 percent of Chinese whitefish processing plants will likely go out of business in the next five years as the sector continues to battle with COVID-19 lockdowns, less raw material and higher costs, warned Jerry Chang, president of Chang International, a major whitefish processor in Qingdao, China predicted last year.

In the main production area of Dalian – Zhuanghe – there used to be over 100 plants, said Chang earlier. This has now reduced to 85.

China has defended its handling of the COVID-19 surged after US President Joe Biden raised concerns and the World Health Organization (WHO) said China was under-reporting virus deaths.

Siam Canadian Group Frozen Seafood Exporters 

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