Mayor Kirk Caldwell today announced a new “fish-to-dish” initiative to help Hawaii’s fishing industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have an incredible longline fishing industry,” said Caldwell during a news conference at Pier 38, “and local fishermen who go out every day in grueling conditions, catching fish and bringing it back to feed our residents and visitors.”
But the longline fishing industry has lost an estimated $10 million, or about 60% in revenue, since mid-March lockdowns went into effect due to the pandemic, Caldwell said.
In an effort to help, he said the city is committing $2.6 million in federal coronavirus funds to help the fishing industry get back on its feet.
The “fish-to-dish” program will work in partnership with the Hawaii Longline Association, the United Fishing Agency, which runs the fish auction, and Hawaii Seafood Council to distribute fish to the community.
In all, 350,000 pieces of fresh fish are expected to be distributed to the community in the next five months through the Hawaii Foodbank and its partners.
Ed Hawkins, director of the Office of Economic Development, said he hoped to initiate the program on Monday.
In addition to the city’s farm-to-car initiative and small business relief and recovery programs, the “fish-to-dish” program is intended to help the local economy, he said.
Each of the Hawaii Longline Association’s 140 or so boats in itself is a small business with huge costs, he noted. When going out, every boat purchases ice to keep the fish fresh, buys bait and fuel, and needs to make revenue at the fish auction in order to make ends meet as well as to maintain their vessels.
Hawaii Longline Association Executive Director Eric Kingma estimated about 800 to 900 work on the vessels, but that the downfall has also impacted the fish auction and a few dozen locally-owned wholesale seafood distribution companies.
When the market crashed in March, wholesale companies laid off about half of their employees, he said, and some boats have remained idle for several weeks. Overall, the direct and indirect economic impacts amount to about $1 billion and have affected about 9,000 jobs, he said.
The “fish-to-dish” initiative comes at a critical time for the longtime industry as well as for Hawaii’s food security.
“So this support acts as an investment into Hawaii’s fishing industry, its future and getting us through the pandemic,” he said.