The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday around exactly what services would be permitted to operate under Alert Level Three has been welcomed – for surety alone.

Whilst the ability for seafood retail businesses to open directly to the public will still not be possible under Level Three, the go ahead for ‘click and collect’ will be a welcome relief.

The decision on whether Level Four will be lifted will be made at Cabinet on Monday.

Keith Mawson at Egmont Seafoods says he processed more than 1000 online orders last week. With his retail business closed he is trying to push everything online – and that has meant real challenges. In his words, this is not organic growth but a tsunami. He says the telephone traffic is also up with the elderly struggling with no online access. Also, people at home with time on their hands means he is fielding significantly more phone calls to assist them with their online orders.

It is a story echoed around the country. Harbour Fish in Dunedin is servicing the South Island via online deliveries and has had to cap its daily despatch to keep up.

In Gisborne, Salve Zame of Gisborne Fisheries says their East Rock brand which delivers fresh tarakihi, snapper and gurnard around the North Island has seen significant growth in home delivery demand. However, he says it has put some acute pressure on operations and customer service functions and they will wait to see where things settle before making major changes to the online side of the business.

Mawson agrees that COVID-19 is likely to permanently change consumer habits. The ease with which online or click and collect delivers their food will be a game changer.

Currently, more than 23 New Zealand seafood companies are providing an online service. A link to those companies can be found here.

While business as usual may still be a long way away, the additional flexibility afforded under Level Three will be vital to survival for our companies. Clarity from the Government around what is permitted or expected in each level is critical. The Level Four lockdown came at us fast and furiously – and right before Easter – and many struggled to get systems in place. Even those who already offered online purchasing of seafood admit moving everything to online was challenging. Couriers, packaging, phone systems and ability to keep staff safe while dealing with a 20-fold increase in online business was testing.

Should a decision to move to Level Three be made on Monday, the prospect of opening our retail businesses up for customers to order online and collect from the premises, albeit without any contact, will ease some of the pressure.

Ultimately though, the opening of our retail outlets must be what we continually strive for. The discussions will continue in Wellington to allow whole food retail outlets such as butchers, bakers, fish mongers and fruit and vegetable stores to open with strict distancing measures.

This is a move that will open up supply chains, provide valuable retail opportunities for fishers, relieve pressure on supermarkets and online businesses and bring a sense of normality back to our regions and suburbs.

In the meantime, let’s all hope Level Three eventuates soon.