By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Florida fishing industry has been smacked hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 is the latest in a wave of major impacts on the $1.7 billion economic mainstay.

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Tom Hill, owner and manager of the Key Largo Fisheries says, “The effect of Irma here and Michael up north and down here dealing with an algae bloom, as well as, the red tide.”

“Hurricanes you can wrap your head around, but the coronavirus is the silent hurricane.”

The fish wholesale and retail business is in flux as consumers shy away from perishables.

“…Have lost their ability to sell the fish to fishing houses, processors because they have no idea where to go to sell the stuff,” Hill says.

Those dealing within the Florida lobster business still have lobsters in tanks.

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As the Chinese market for Florida lobster crashed ahead of general knowledge of the potential pandemic.

“The lobster market began to collapse in China. They knew something was going on and we didn’t. Even their holiday. No shipping of live lobster to China,” Hill says.

The Florida fishing industry supports 14,000 workers and that’s why bipartisan Florida congressional representatives are pushing the US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to expedite the disbursement of $300 million in funds made available by the Cares Act for fishery-related businesses.

“I am impressed. It is a real bipartisan piece of legislation to help the commercial fishing industry,” says Hill.

And what are the folks at Keys Fisheries doing to keep the business moving?

Hill says, “We have reinvented ourselves. We are on social media. We are doing a lot of fed ex of boxes into Miami, Fort Lauderdale area.”

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