The fishing industry is set to lose billions of dollars as the coronavirus pandemic causes demand to fall.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), exports of fisheries products rose to $153 billion in 2017. In 2020, exports are predicted to drop by at least one third. Demand is down globally, as lockdown restrictions have forced restaurants and hotels to shut their doors.
“When there’s a pandemic, people aren’t interested in high-quality seafood,” David Dickens, chief executive of UK charity Fishermen’s Mission, told the Guardian. He explained that demand for shellfish, like crab and lobster, in China had “vaporized.”
Salmon, trout, cod, and shrimp have witnessed significant price drops. The latter is now selling for 10 percent of its usual price. The Maldives has stopped selling tuna to Europe completely. India to China shrimp exports have fallen 10 to 15 percent.
Seafood exports from Argentina to Spain, Italy, and China have fallen by 30 percent since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
The impact on fishers is significant. It’s estimated there are around 9.4 million fishers working around the world; 90 percent of these people live in developing countries.
A Silver Lining for the Ocean
But UNCTAD notes that there may be a silver lining: the health of the oceans could improve.
Catch in the Mediterranean has dropped by 80 percent. Some experts believe that 2020 could be the first year when overfishing does not happen in European waters.
Dr. Rainer Froese from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, told The Scotsman: “fisheries will not fish out the too-high catches. And so actually, this could be the year where for the first time there is no overfishing in European waters.”
He added: “what does it mean for the future? Well, if you fish less then more fish remain in the water, and these fish will grow, and they will reproduce.”
UNCTAD legal officer David Vivas, who works on both trade and environmental issues, believes the pandemic is offering governments an opportunity to “rethink” how they support the fishing industry.
He said in a statement: “[They could] shift from subsidies that enhance the capacity of industrial fleets in favor of more support for responsible small-scale fishers as well as measures that encourage stock management and improve fishing traceability.”