The previously unknow word “Covid-19“ is finding its way into nearly every conversation taking place around the globe. The whole world seems to be holding its breath while waiting for the mid and long term impacts of the pandemic to fully unfold on their lives. From daily activities to summer holiday plans; from local shops to the the global economy, everything and everyone seems to be experiencing repercussions from Covid-19.
The outbreak of the Corona virus is also taking its toll on the fishing industry, both locally and globally. In a Guardian article from March 18th 2020, Damian Carrington summed up some of the impacts of Covid-19 on the UK fishing industry. The UK usually exports 70% of its catch to Europe and Asia and imports most of its own consumption so with demand from export markets and the local restaurants having dried up self employed UK inshore Fishermen are facing a “severe shock“. The changes in demand and exports is also causing a shift in the species sold locally as usually expensive seafood destined mainly for exports like dover sole, lobster or crab is now sold domestically at bargain prices. Jamie McMillan, the managing director of Loch Fyne Langoustines and Loch Fyne Seafarms, which exports scallops, lobster and crab wasn’t optimistic when he told Carrington “If it continues, we’re going to have to tell our fishermen to stop fishing, they don’t get paid if they don’t fish and they have young families to feed“. Carrington reported that another fisher, Benji Solway, said on Facebook: “The UK fishing industry is on the brink of an imminent collapse. The Government must step in and help us all now before it’s too late”.
On April 17th 2020, Laura Millan Lombrana of Bloomberg Green reported explaining how the disrupted seafood supply chains have led to the collapse of fish prices in Asia, and how half of the Spanish fishing fleet is staying in port, which represents a huge reduction in fishing effort considering the fact that Spain has the largest fishing fleet in Europe. This is in addition to the uncertainty Spanish and French fishers face given the lack of clarity around Brexit negotiation and their future access to UK waters. However on April 12th 2020 Simon Osborne of Express reported five vast EU Supertrawlers entering UK Waters. Concerns were raised by Greenpeace UK, who were monitoring the activity of the three Dutch and two French supertrawlers off the Scottish coast. By entering UK waters after lockdown had been imposed, and knowing that this had caused many fishers to stay ashore, this shows the lengths some unscrupulous fishing companies will go to increase their profits at the expense of marine life. Fortunately this example seems to be an exception, meaning that the majority of fishing vessels around the world are respecting the lockdown.
On World Tuna Day (May 2nd), David Schalit, commercial fisherman and president of the American Bluefin Tuna Association told the PEW trusts “The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has occurred between seasons for our U.S. East Coast bluefin fishery—our next season begins June 1st. Generally, global demand for bluefin is expected to be dramatically reduced during the pandemic. However, given that most bluefin is wild-caught and fattened in ranches, these farms have the possibility to sustain lower sales by maintaining their fish in inventory. In order to do this, they will have to increase their pen capacity to hold 2020 catch.“
It may not come as a surprise that this negative situation for the fishing industry represents a silver lining for marine ecosystems and fish stocks. There are numerous reports from all over the globe of wildlife recovery while generally improved environmental conditions are widely discussed across all formats from newspapers to social media. This phenomenon also applies to the marine world; Bryce Beukers-Stewart, a fisheries expert at the University of York, told Damian Carrington of the Guardian that “In an extreme scenario, which I do not wish on the fishing industry, we could see some dramatic reductions in fishing activity and as a result, recovery of stocks“. In an interview for Bloomberg Green, Carlos Duarte, a research chair at the Red Sea Research Center in Saudi Arabia and member of a data compiling consortium of scientists in the UK, Canada and Saudi Arabia, told Laura Millan Lombrana that the marine environment can only benefit from the reduced pressure on stocks. While evidence of a recovery in marine life is still anecdotal, increases in the presence of mammals such as killer whales, dolphins and seals have been recorded in areas where they haven’t been seen in decades. “The noise and the activity on the water have diminished. These animals have a culture that is passed through generations and the young ones are probably feeling curious about areas that were part of their territory decades ago“ Duarte said. He even went as far as to hope for the effects of Covid-19 on the marine environment to be similar to those of World War I and II, saying “Studies after the first and second world wars showed a spectacular recovery. We are hoping that this unintended closed season between February and June or July will accelerate the recovery of fish stocks and allow us to reach conservation objectives faster“. However, no matter how positive the effects of Covid-19 on marine life may sound, the outbreak may not last long enough for a proper recovery of fish stocks to unfold. Nick Graham, a Professor at the University of Lancaster and co-author of a study analyzing fish populations in over 1800 tropical reefs in 41 countries, told Lombrana “To be sure, the recovery of diversity and fish numbers is a slow process and the experience in marine protected areas shows a full recovery can take as much as two decades“.
It is safe to say that the Covid-19 outbreak represents one of the biggest challenges for humanity in the 21st century, it is impacting humans in so many ways that we may need a few years to fully assess and understand its consequences. However nearly anything that causes a decrease in human activity is good news for wildlife and the envinronment as a whole, and this is definitely the case with Covid-19. While it may not last long enough for a measurable long term improvement in the state and health of global fish stocks, one can still hope that this tragedy will help us understanding the impacts our activity is having on the planet and its non human occupants. Most importantly, one can hope this knowledge will trigger a chain reaction of change in the way humans deal with their environment as a whole, whether it is climate change, overfishing, ocean acidification, environmental pollution, loss of biodiversity, or any other one of the dramatic and pending environmental issues we are facing, Covid-19 could be teaching us a lesson in solution finding. The remaining question is: are we listening?
Sofian Zerelli (Author)
The Guardian :
7 Network – Miami:
Daily Express :