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Seafood biz braces for losses of jobs, fish due to sanctions

PORTLAND, MAINE (AP) – The worldwide seafood industry is steeling itself for price hikes, supply disruptions and potential job losses as new rounds of economic sanctions on Russia make key species such as cod and crab harder to come by.

The latest round of United States (US) attempts to punish Russia for the invasion of Ukraine includes bans on imports of seafood and diamonds. The US is also stripping “most favoured nation status” from Russia. Nations around the world are taking similar steps.

Russia is one of the largest producers of seafood in the world, and was the fifth-largest producer of wild-caught fish, according to a 2020 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN).

Russia is not one of the biggest exporters of seafood to the US, but it’s a world leader in exports of cod. It’s also a major supplier of crabs and Alaska pollock, widely used in fast-food sandwiches and processed products like fish sticks.

The impact is likely to be felt globally, as well as in places with working waterfronts. One of those is Maine, where more than USD50 million in seafood products from Russia passed through Portland in 2021, according to federal statistics.

Russia exported more than 28 million pounds of cod to the US from January 1, 2020, to January 31, 2022, according to census data.

The European Union and United Kingdom (UK) are both deeply dependent on Russian seafood. And prices of seafood are already spiking in Japan, a major seafood consumer that is limiting its trade with Russia.

In the UK, where fish and chips are a cultural marker, shop owners and consumers alike are bracing for price surges.

British fish and chip shops were already facing a squeeze because of soaring energy costs and rising food prices.

Head of the National Federation of Fish Friers Andrew Crook said earlier this month that – even before the war – he expected a third of Britain’s fish and chip shops to go out of business. If fish prices shoot up even higher, “we are in real dire straits”, he said.

A cod to be auctioned sits on ice at the Portland Fish Exchange in Portland, Maine. PHOTO: AP