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Fisheries producers shifting gears to adjust to coronavirus impact on markets

HALIFAX — Atlantic Canadian fisheries entrepreneurs like Danny Dumaresque have to be nimble in their marketing efforts as the impact of the novel coronavirus hits their Asian customer base and delays key industry events.

HALIFAX — Atlantic Canadian fisheries entrepreneurs like Danny Dumaresque have to be nimble in their marketing efforts as the impact of the novel coronavirus hits their Asian customer base and delays key industry events.

The owner of Labrador Gem Seafood had counted on attending Seafood Expo North America in Boston this month, but learned Tuesday the event is being postponed due to concerns about the spread of the illness.

Dumaresque said he's now flying to destinations in the United States to meet with individual clients to ensure his recently developed sea urchin products have customers.

Until recently, Japan was his company's main market. But the novel coronavirus caused China to reduce its imports of sea urchins, resulting in a flood of the product into Japan from other nations.

"That's meant a change in strategy to more vigorously pursue the North American market for our unique product," Dumaresque said.

Dumaresque said the Boston seafood show being postponed creates further challenges for seafood producers trying to reach alternative markets.

"It's a missed opportunity because now you have to do it by individual companies. It's going to be a hell of a lot more time-consuming and costly," said the 60-year-old business owner.

He said the seasonal work at his processing plant in the island community of Ramea, N.L., will depend on his success during trips to potential buyers in the northeastern U.S. over the next week.

The latest data shows there have been more than 3,200 deaths and 94,000 confirmed cases of the illness known as COVID-19 spanning 74 countries. More than 80,000 of the cases come from China, but the number of infected in other countries continues to grow, including 33 cases in Canada.

In New Brunswick, Ross Wetmore, the minister of agriculture and fisheries, had also planned to attend the Seafood Expo, but now must make other plans due to postponement of the event.

Wetmore said in an email that the expo is "an important event for New Brunswick's fish and seafood sectors as it allows our companies to reinforce relationships with existing customers, to generate new customer leads, and to secure sales."

About 100 New Brunswick companies were expected to participate in the event, which attracts more than 19,000 buyers and suppliers, Wetmore said.

"Although this is an important event for our industry, safety comes first and we understand the organizers' decision to postpone the event," he wrote.

Keith Colwell, Nova Scotia's minister of agriculture and fisheries, said in an interview that the industry is adapting well despite notable price drops for lobster linked to issues in the Chinese marketplace.

"These are going to be minor setbacks for a period of time. But we haven't lost our markets and that's the key thing," he said.

However, Colwell said his government is looking to promote local food production, both to ensure food security and provide food for export to countries where climate change and disease outbreaks disrupt supply.

He and federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bideau announced $600,000 in funding for two greenhouses in the province on Wednesday.

Luke den Haan, owner of den Haan Greenhouses, said the transition to year-round production using LED lighting for vegetable growing is a way to adjust to disruptions such as the novel coronavirus.

"By having products here in Nova Scotia, it means I guarantee my product is safe," he said, noting the province has yet to report a case of the illness.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.

— With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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