Aussie seafood: COVID lessons learned

4th March 2021 | Eativity editors

A new report from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) has analysed how COVID-19 affected the seafood industry in Australia, with the aim of using this knowledge to prepare the sector for any future crises.

Funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), the study found that the overall impacts of COVID-19 have been “asymmetric”, with sectors supplying domestic retail markets mostly able to prosper, while producers selling into export markets and the domestic dine-in foodservice sector were often “brought to their knees”.

IMAS study leader Dr Emily Ogier says the research focused on the short-term impacts of the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, from January to June 2020, and examined the impacts at a sector level, rather than at an individual business level.

“The industry at large showed resilience,” Dr Ogier says. “Sectors that were able to adapt quickly did better, which highlights the need for continuity planning. This will involve paying greater attention to supply chain risks, and fostering relationships and capabilities to enable rapid reorientation in products and markets.”

Domestic markets fared better than export and foodservice markets during the crisis.

The report found that government support measures helped the industry to weather some of the negative impacts, and it also provides valuable insights and a reference point that could help the industry to tackle future shocks.

“The pandemic impacted the seafood industry both directly and indirectly, and resultant disruptions were often amplified by other factors, such as bushfire and stock conditions,” Dr Ogier says. “The report provides valuable clues as to the vulnerabilities of Australia’s seafood industries to global shocks that affect markets and supply chains in different ways – and these clues will assist to build a more resilient industry.”

The report aims to help improve early warning systems and build industry resilience.

FRDC Managing Director Dr Patrick Hone says that, while not comprehensively surveying all sectors within the industry, this initial study is an important first step for future-proofing.

“As the industry moves forward, it is important to ask what was learned from this past year,” he says. “What were the surprises and what can be done differently in the future?

“The cost of being under-prepared is too great. The lesson from the previous SARS pandemic was that these questions were not asked.”

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