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Local commercial fishermen and fish markets feel impact of COVID-19

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log
The Destin Log

With doors closed to area seafood restaurants due to the coronavirus, there’s not much call for commercial fishermen to haul in those fish.

“We had just got a 14,000-pound load of red snapper in, anticipating a whole bunch of busy restaurants,” said Eddie Morgan of Harbor Docks Seafood Market. “But that didn’t happen at all.

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“We’re not hardly selling anything to restaurants ... we’re still selling a little bit to the fish markets,” he said such as Shrimpers and Goatfeathers in South Walton. “But the restaurants are not like they should be.”

Morgan said they opened their seafood market on Mountain Drive last week and sold whatever they had at wholesale prices to the general public.

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But with restaurants closed for in-door dining, and only a few still doing carry out, the demand for fish is low.

“There are a few (commercial) boats fishing, but most of the boats that we work with ... we’ve told them to stay at the dock,” Morgan said. “We don’t need much now.”

The closing of the restaurant doors has had a trickle down effect on economics.

“So the restaurants close, it hurts the employees here, but it hurts the people that we get stuff from,” Morgan said. “It hurts our fish market, our produce company, our paper company and our linen company. So the fish market is not ordering food, so now the fisherman is not fishing and not making a living.

“The restaurant industry is a huge industry but its also a small industry,” he added. “The branches that branch off of it are just enormous and is critical to the economy as a whole.”

Ariel Seafoods is also feeling the crunch from the pandemic.

"We’re down to less than 10 percent of normal production,“ said owner David Krebs.

Basically whether a fish goes to a restaurant in Destin, New York, Birmingham or even Miami, “it doesn’t matter ... there is no business,” Krebs said.

Ariel deals with about a half dozen commercial boats to bring in those fresh fish.

“We’ve got our boats limited on catching just a few small fish that go into the retail stores and super markets. Then that’s it. That’s a small piece of business,” he said.

Saturday morning, the commercial boat Alleluia came in at Destin Fishing Fleet Marina with a little more than 6,000 pounds of red snapper for Ariel.

Krebs said the snapper was preordered, so the boat was actually fishing to fill an order leading up to Good Friday.

“We’re concerned as to what is going to happen after Easter Sunday,” Krebs said. “It’s a real trying time for Americans right now ... to do the right thing and make sure we survive this and come out on the other end with the ability to move on.”

Like Morgan, Krebs noted the trickle down effect with restaurants closed.

Krebs said they sell a lot of fish to California. He was talking to one of his customers out west and the produce they usually ship is still in the fields because there is nowhere to sell it because nobody is buying.

Restaurants being closed is not just about the seafood, “it’s everything,” Krebs said.

“We’re going to get through this with God’s grace but we’re going to be three to six months of ever understanding what the real effect on the nation is going to be. It’s going to be tough ... even with the stimulus,” Krebs said.

Ariel has already had to lay off a few employees. Krebs said they were going to have to reevaluate after Easter where they are as a company.

“We’re good for another month ... but if (we) don’t get some help from the government ... then we’ll have to change what we’re doing,” Krebs said. “I think we’ll know the Monday after Easter.

“God knows what’s best for us and maybe this will all work out for the good. But it sure is painful right now to see your fellow citizens and friends struggle,” Krebs said.

“It’s the unknown that’s so frustrating,” Morgan added.