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Oregon fishing industry hit hard during COVID-19 pandemic

Local seafood groups are working to support fishers and families who have lost income.

NEWPORT, Ore — Oregon seafood groups are rallying to support those struggling in the fishing industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It affected the business as a whole in the community, because fishing is the largest industry," Taunette Dixon said.

Dixon is part of a fourth generation fishing family in Newport. She said since earlier this year, overseas and domestic business has largely dried up.

"When restaurants started closing down — that's our biggest market in the United States," she said. 

Then in June, a Pacific Seafood plant in Newport experienced a large-scale coronavirus outbreak.

RELATED: Study finds fewer COVID-19 cases in Newport after June outbreak

"Which just stopped fishing in our community for a while," Dixon said.

"It's been a season that has been unlike any other," said Tim Novotny of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

The fishery associated with the commission brought in about half a billion dollars to the Oregon economy over the last 5-6 years, according to Novotny.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting restaurants and overseas markets, he said this year's outlook is shaky.

"[Fishing] is a huge part of Oregon, not just the coastal communities," Novotny added. "It is the lifeblood [of the coast]."

He said the economic impact on fishing and seafood production will impact many other sectors, including shipping, hospitality, and tourism.

"It's been a huge impact," agreed Dixon.

Dixon is co-president of the nonprofit Newport Fishermen's Wives. With a new grant and community donations, the group is expanding aid to local fishers and their families.

Families with lost income because of the pandemic can apply online by August 19.

"We're hoping not to have to turn any families away," Dixon said. "We're hoping to help as many families as we can."

Meanwhile, local seafood groups are changing course on marketing, since most seafood is typically eaten in restaurants. They encourage Oregonians to make it a part of home cooking.

"People sometimes are afraid of cooking seafood, even though it's super simple and healthy. It intimidates some people," explained Dixon.

A statewide "Eat Oregon Seafood" campaign offers resources and guides for seafood preparation.

The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission is also working to help grocery stores and restaurants to adjust to conditions under COVID-19.

"[To] think of crab as a takeout option, not just a fine dining option," Novotny said.

Both groups recognize the difficult path forward, saying the economic downturn could affect them for several seasons.

"This is going to impact us for a long time," Dixon said. "We don't know the outcome, but we are definitely concerned about the future of the industry."

RELATED: Financial relief coming for agricultural workers in Oregon who are self-quarantining