BCs Wild Seafood Exports Caught in Beijings COVID-19 Panic

A false alarm linking salmon and COVID-19 in China is creating a serious ripple effect for B.C.s seafood industry.

On June 14, state-run newspapers in China reported an unconfirmed hypothesis that a fresh COVID-19 outbreak in Beijings Xinfadi market could be traced to a cutting board used for imported salmon.

Although Chinas Centre for Disease Control (CCDC) and Prevention exonerated imported salmon Tuesday, saying no traces of COVID-19 were found on the packaged fish before it arrived in Beijing, a series of far-reaching implications had already been set in motion.

First, China halted all of its European salmon imports. Then certain wild seafood exporters from B.C. were asked to stop exporting their product to China as well.

Medical staff members in full protective gear stand outside the Guangan sports centre to assist people who live near or who have visited the Xinfadi Market, a wholesale food market where a new COVID-19 cluster has emerged, for testing in Beijing on June 16, 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

“Theres serious implications for all kinds of seafood being exported to China,” said Christina Burridge, executive director for B.C. Seafood Alliance.

Burridge said wild seafood like sea cucumbers, spot prawns, geoducks, and dungeness crabs are products with significant markets in Asia.

“These products dont have a large domestic market, with 95 percent of it exported to markets in China and other Asian countries,” said Burridge.

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada statistics, Canadas fish and seafood exports to China were valued at $1.17 billion in 2019. B.C. was one of the top seafood exporting provinces, with exports valued at $306 million.

Wild seafood products such as crab and geoduck accounted for $324 million and $94 million in Canadian exports to China, compared to salmon exports valued at $60 million. Canadas major salmon market is the United States.

Burridge also said she has been hearing reports that Chinese authorities are demanding all seafood be cooked before export. That would be a challenge since most Canadian seafood is sought live.

The World Health Organization stated COVID-19 is not transmitted through fish and the origins of the new cluster in Beijing is still uncertain. However China halted all salmon imports from Europe after genetic traces of the virus found in Beijing suggested it could have come from Europe. Supermarkets in Beijing also removed salmon from their shelves.