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Pandemic triggers ‘widespread upheaval’ in global fisheries and aquaculture

A local woman uses a net to fish in the shallow waters of the Rupununi River in Guyana.
© Brent Stirton/Getty Images for FAO | CIFOR | CIRAD | WCS
A local woman uses a net to fish in the shallow waters of the Rupununi River in Guyana.

Pandemic triggers ‘widespread upheaval’ in global fisheries and aquaculture

Economic Development

COVID-19 has caused “widespread upheaval” for the whole fishing and aquaculture industry around the world, the UN deputy agriculture chief said on Tuesday, launching a new report that assesses the toll the pandemic has taken on the sector. 

“Production has been disrupted, supply chains have been interrupted and consumer spending restricted by various lockdowns”, said Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

And as containment restraints continue to affect supply and demand, further interference may impact the sector throughout the year, according to FAO’s The impact of COVID-19 on fisheries and aquaculture food systems report. 

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The brunt of lockdown  

While containment restrictions are expected to have pushed fish supply, consumption and trade revenues for 2020 into decline, the report noted that global aquaculture production – the cultivation of all organisms including plants, and other saltwater or freshwater organisms - may also have recorded its first drop in years. 

“Containment measures have provoked far-reaching changes, many of which are likely to persist in the long term”, said Ms. Semedo. 

The report stressed every stage of the fisheries and aquaculture supply chain is susceptible to being disrupted or stopped by these restrictions. 

The Fish Price Index is down for most traded species and restaurant and hotel closures in many countries have prompted falling demand for fresh fish.  

“The impact has been significant in developing countries, especially those with large informal sectors, where small-scale and artisanal workers and communities depend on fisheries for their food security, livelihoods”, the deputy FAO chief said.  

“They have borne the brunt of restrictions”. 

The FAO report indicated that unsold aquaculture products would increase live fish stocks, creating higher costs for feeding and more fish mortalities.  

Frozen over fresh 

And COVID19-related restrictions on crews along with market conditions have reduced fishing, leaving a slight decline in global wild catches last year. 

The coronavirus has also caused consumer preferences to shift as households stock up on non-perishable foods, replacing the demand for fresh fish with a preference for packaged and frozen products. 

Meanwhile, before the pandemic, the sector was trending upwards, with fish consumption growing significantly over the last decade to an average of more than 20 kilos per person. 

Moving forward 

While FAO pressed for disruptive border restriction measures on food production to be minimized for food security, the report called for sectoral and regional organizations to manage fisheries and aquaculture together during the pandemic. 

COVID-19’s impact on women – already vulnerable as food producers, processors and vendors – should also be considered when government’s decide on support levels.  

Amidst so much uncertainty, FAO reminded that the 34th session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI 34), taking place this week, is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries – the landmark instrument endorsed by FAO member States that has been guiding efforts towards sustainable fisheries and aquaculture around the world.