Throughout 2020, the impact of bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic was profound for the seafood industry, and caused significant challenges for our stakeholders. Import and export restrictions, the near-complete shut-down of tourism, and the implementation of lockdown measures all had substantial impacts on fishers, buyers, suppliers, retailers, and industry bodies.
Despite this, the strength of the industry has shone through, with effective responses and significant pivots to ensure that the wheels kept turning. The industry has again proven to be remarkably resilient.
In celebration of World Fisheries Day and as we reflect on a year that solidified the strength of the Australian seafood industry, Sydney Fish Market spoke to a number of retailers, co-ops and industry bodies about how they handled the challenges of the pandemic…
Throughout the industry, examples of individuals and organisations managing to maintain operations in these difficult circumstances have been numerous.
Industry bodies such as the Professional Fishers Association have focused their energy on negotiating direct assistance for fishers, lobbying extensively both for individuals and for promotion of the seafood industry as a whole. The PFA implemented various promotions, including tailor-made recipe cards, and promotion of seafood consumption through social media and advertising.
“Encouraging locals - especially in regional areas of NSW - to consume more seafood was an important goal of ours,” said Tricia Beatty of the PFA, “to ensure that local seafood producers had a consistent market to sell through.”
Professional Fishers Association Recipe Cards
Sydney Fish Market board member and director of the Catchers Trust, Steve Everson, said, “While an average of 55% of local catch from northern NSW co-ops is sold at Sydney Fish Market, the other 45% is sold locally.”
When the pandemic hit, the cessation of tourism to these areas was a significant blow to their ability to sell this 45%. However, many Co-ops responded by pivoting to online ordering services for the first time ever. Hand in hand with the industry’s heightened promotion of seafood state-wide, these services made sure local communities had access to fresh seafood, and were able to support their local fishers.
Cooperatives such as the Clarence River Co-op also focused on keeping operations running, demonstrating their responsibility to the fishers who rely on them for their income.
“Closing wasn’t an option,” said General Manager, Danielle Adams. “We had 200 fishers and employees relying on us.”
Instead, the Co-op focused efforts on meeting the government’s ever-changing safety regulations, implementing reduced operational hours and regular cleaning breaks to ensure the safety of their customers and employees.
Working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, not-for-profit organisation OceanWatch developed their Master Fisherman program alongside the NSW fishing industry, with the aim of improving and recognising the knowledge, skills, experience, and professionalism of 150+ participating fishers through experiential learning. Using a tailored digital platform, the program also celebrates the sustainability of fresh local seafood to the supply-chain, and provides easily accessed information via QR codes to consumers to help them value locally produced seafood – both key achievements for the industry in the face of the pandemic.
Click the video below to learn more about the Master Fisherman program:
Although Sydney Fish Market has also been impacted significantly by the pandemic, we have responded to these difficult circumstances strongly, keeping the site and our seafood operations up and running for customers.
A highly detailed and thoroughly documented Site Management Plan allowed us to remain open for business on both the operational floor and across the retail precinct for the majority of the pandemic.
Early morning activity at Sydney Fish Market
To meet the NSW Government’s COVID-19 regulations, SFM formed a COVID Task Force to oversee, monitor and evaluate the site’s operations. We also incorporated an extensive site wide risk assessment, to ensure systems and processes were modified to provide the safest possible workplace for our workers and visitors. The COVID Task Force initially met daily in the peak of the pandemic and continues to meet weekly to ensure continued compliance with constantly changing COVID-19 regulations.
Unfortunately, COVID restrictions meant the temporary closure of our wonderful Sydney Seafood School. However, Sydney Seafood School pivoted quickly to create SSS@Home, which combined cook-at-home ingredient kits with online video recipe instruction to establish an entirely new and compelling product. The success of this venture has ensured that seafood lovers across NSW are able to benefit from the expertise of the Sydney Seafood School, learn more about cooking seafood, and enjoy SFM’s fresh product in the comfort of their own homes.
SSS@Home: Ling wrapped in banana leaf with salsa verde
Reduced visitation affected retailers considerably, a pressure which we sought to alleviate with rent subsidies and other supporting initiatives. Many retailers were able to quickly commence digital selling for the first time to increase their sales, while existing delivery services such as Get Fish thrived and responded to demand.
In response to the decline in tourist visitation as a result of travel restrictions, SFM (in cooperation with its retailers) also developed the Market Mornings campaign. The purpose of this campaign was to communicate to Sydneysiders the benefits of shopping for seafood at the market, encourage increased seafood consumption and promote the diversity, uniqueness and quality of food offerings.. Several retailers provided special offers and shopper incentives and visitors also had 2-hours free parking for entry between 7am-11am on Monday to Thursday during the campaign period.
NSW Police Force assist with Good Friday trade
In order to generate awareness of the market and seafood consumption in general, media coverage included two segments on Studio 10 and an Easter press conference, which let viewers know that SFM remained very much open for trade and safe for visitation during the COVID-19 crisis.
Most notably, Sydney Fish Market’s auction continued to run throughout the year, with an uptick in the use of digital remote bidding capabilities. This provided crucial service continuity for the industry in NSW, and prices remained strong given the situation and increase in domestically traded seafood volume. Industry groups and fishers alike have extolled the importance of the market remaining functional for the success of the wider industry in these unprecedented times.
Many retail businesses pivoted to online selling in the height of lockdown. With numerous shops forced to close their doors, these businesses were able to bring fresh Aussie seafood direct to customers by implementing online ordering.
Retailers at Sydney Fish Market quickly shifted their focus, developing new ways of getting their product into the hands of customers. Existing delivery services, such as De Costi Seafood’s Get Fish, boomed as demand for convenience rose. Meanwhile, retailers who had never considered offering home delivery before were able to quickly innovate.
Carmelo Lombardo of De Costi Seafoods, Sydney Fish Market
“We immediately had to adapt to the new circumstances,” said Peter from the Fish Market Café. “By implementing strategies and safety precautions, we made our business a COVID-safe environment and spread the word through social media, so that our loyal customers can enjoy peace of mind while shopping through our quality seafood.
We added a delivery option for the very first time so that customers can enjoy our seafood from the comfort of their own home or workplace.”
Staff working at Claudio's Quality Seafoods
Furthermore, the success of these solutions has ensured that they are now here to stay.
“In a matter of one week [we had built] a platform where customers can order online and get their seafood delivered,” said Thanh Dang, manager of Claudio’s Seafood. “Since the opening of our online store, two days before Good Friday, we have never looked back.”
Throughout this extremely tough year, the response from the wider seafood industry has been exceedingly positive. Across the industry, management plans were put in place to ensure that the wheels kept turning during the pandemic. As a result, fishers’ livelihoods were protected, and Australians had continuous access to fresh Australian seafood.
This successful response has set an incredibly encouraging tone for the adaptability and agility of the industry moving forward. The ability to face the difficult circumstances of a pandemic with such innovation and passion highlights the industry’s ability to respond to challenges, and triumph regardless.