Commercial Fishing Industry in Free Fall as Restaurants Close, Consumers Hunker Down and Vessels Tie Up

Kenny Melanson has managed not to furlough or lay off employees at his seafood company, but all nonessential workers have been sent home. Now it’s core staff, hair-netted and suited up, spreading fat sea scallops across a mechanized belt and running them through two brine tanks and two washes and then a quick-freeze. There’s a wall of pallets, hundreds of boxes labeled “fresh seafood,” all of it enveloped in sheets of plastic wrap. Waiting for what’s next.

He runs Northern Wind in New Bedford, Mass., contracting with 74 fishing vessels and employing 125 people. In business 33 years, the company sells about 15 million pounds of scallops and about 6 million pounds of ahi tuna a year.

In the absence of sales, Melanson is running 150,000 pounds of sea scallops a day through individual tunnel freezers, banking them for when the pandemic is over. But cash flow is getting tight. And he worries that when regular life resumes, a glut of scallops will mean tanking prices.

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