Letter to the Editor: Bringing in fishery workers will lead to disaster

As a 45-season veteran of the Alaska salmon processing industry I feel compelled to add my voice to the uproar surrounding the approaching onslaught of coronavirus in Bristol Bay. If processors are allowed to fly thousands of workers and fishermen in from all over the world, there will be no avoiding an absolute viral disaster.

It is very difficult to keep crews healthy even in good years and health care facilities in Dillingham and Naknek are frequently overwhelmed by seasonal flu. COVID-19 with its long incubation times, asymptotic transmission and often fatal outcomes will be impossible to keep out of the plants in the bay.

Quarantine is required by the state for all workers entering the bay to work, but the proposed scenario would put hundreds of people in crowded bunk houses with communal bathrooms and dining. The results are so predictable.

It is very possible that hundreds of people may need to be medevaced as there will be no capacity in the bay to deal with a large outbreak. If the hospitals in Anchorage are also experiencing stress, there will be virtually no options for care. Regardless of precautions, a large outbreak in any of the plants will inevitably spread to the community if it isn’t already there. Anyone who believes there is a workable solution has to be completely delusional.

I am well aware of the financial impact to the processors, fishermen, community and state, but do we choose dollars over lives? All one has to do is read the accounts of the 1918-19 flu pandemic to realize the potential for terrible epidemic.

These are not unprecedented times in the bay, it’s all gone down before and the wreckage from a hundred years ago is with us yet. I hope that the state and the processors will come to their senses before it’s too late. In a few more weeks the die will be cast and there will be no putting the genie back in the bottle.

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Roy Robinson
Duvall, Wash.


Roy Robinson worked for Alaska General Seafoods for 42 years, retiring as a port engineer in 2017.

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