Challenges and resources for fish producers in Michigan during COVID-19

Michigan Sea Grant webinar for fish producers will discuss including direct-to-consumer marketing strategies as a business plan.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are working to support Michigan fish producers (aquaculture and commercial fisheries) in Michigan by hosting listening sessions and seeking perspectives in an informal needs assessment to advise our Extension programming in response to COVID-19 impacts.

Challenges

Despite fish producers being listed as essential under the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders in Michigan, their businesses are struggling to stay in business. Many producers tell us that movement of fish products has  ̶  for the most part  ̶  just stopped. Ponds and tanks are full, freezers are stocked, and nets are empty. For those who used to set 10 nets a week, they might now set out 1 net every 2 weeks. In addition, those who stock private ponds, fisheries sportsman groups or association clubs, and those who offer fee fishing (pay to fish and go home with your catch) have had large, annual standing orders cancelled. And producers who used to sell their products to restaurants or wholesalers are feeling the biggest impacts right now and are looking into changing their business plans to direct marketing to help connect consumers to local food. The fish are there; they are just not being sold.Michigan Fish Producers Making the switch to direct marketing June2 (002)

With fish not moving, businesses’ operational costs add up. Costs such as fish feed, electricity to run aeration and pumps, the freezers, and the business, and labor still need to be paid. These operational costs can be adjusted if businesses receive financial relief. Many owners have not yet seen CARES Act loan relief, or if they are approved for a loan, they are only receiving maybe enough to cover 1 month of their electricity bill. At least one business has already closed their production indefinitely due to too many unknowns in the coming season.

Moving forward

Fish producers understand they are in this together and that they are not alone. Michigan’s industry is relatively small in which each individual business is also small, 1-10 employee, operations. They really all know each other and have for generations. Working together, these businesses are learning from each other, and Michigan Sea Grant is committed to helping to support them in these difficult times.

Listening sessions

A recent listening session helped to identify the struggles, challenges, and strategies the businesses are facing and highlighted three main challenges:

  1. Sanitation and social distancing protocols during operations
  2. How to make a business plan change to direct marketing
  3. How to stay current with state regulations

To address these challenges, Michigan Sea Grant hosted the “Fish Producers Webinar: Sanitation during COVID.” During this webinar, seafood sanitation was discussed and an industry expert and a representative of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) gave presentations. Other resources shared to help the industry navigate their own COVID-19 plans and stay up-to-date with rapidly changing information included:

Future webinars

The next webinar planned, “Fish Producers Webinar: Making the switch to direct marketing,” will discuss the second identified challenge of switching business plans to include direct to consumer marketing strategies. This webinar will be held at 3 p.m. (ET) June 2, 2020. Please register in advance at https://bit.ly/3g7LjXT.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. This webinar can be attended either by phone or computer, and the presentations will be recorded. This webinar will have speakers from industry and resource agencies for fish producers in Michigan and will address developing marketing plans during the pandemic.

Michigan Sea Grant will also continue to reach out to Michigan fish producers, but if you have immediate needs or questions, please contact Dr. Lauren Jescovitch at jescovit@msu.edu or call 906-487-2974.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research, and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 34 university-based programs.

This article was prepared by Extension educator Lauren N. Jescovitch under award NA14OAR4170070 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan.

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