Q1: How is COVID-19 affecting fisheries and aquaculture?
The impacts of COVID-19 on the fisheries and aquaculture food systems vary, and the situation is rapidly evolving.
Fish and fish products that are highly dependent on international trade suffered quite early in the development of the pandemic from the restrictions and closures of global markets, whereas fresh fish and shellfish supply chains were severely impacted by the closure of the food service sectors (e.g. hotels, restaurants and catering facilities, including school and work canteens). The processing sector also faced closures due to reduced/lost consumer demand. This has had a significant impact, especially on women, who form the majority of the workforce in the post-harvest sector.
The lockdowns implemented by some countries have resulted in logistical difficulties in seafood trade, particularly in relation to transportation and border restrictions. The salmon industry, in particular, suffered from increased air freight costs and cancellation of flights. The tuna industry has reported movement restrictions for professional seafarers, including at-sea fisheries observers, and marine personnel in ports, thereby preventing crew changes and repatriation of seafarers.
Some shortages of seeds, feeds and related aquaculture items (e.g. vaccines) have also been reported, due to restrictions on transportation and travel of personnel, with particular impacts on the aquaculture industry.
As a result of the drop in demand, and resulting price drops, capture fishery production in some countries has been brought to a halt or significantly reduced, which may positively influence wild fish stocks in the short term. In aquaculture, there is growing evidence that unsold produce will result in an increase of live fish stocks, and therefore higher costs for feeding as well as greater risk of fish mortalities.
In some areas, an increase in retail sales has been reported due to the closure of the food service industry. Canned and other preserved seafood products with a longer shelf life have profited from panic buying at the beginning of the crisis. In some markets, suppliers have developed ways to provide direct supplies to consumers (e.g. box schemes) to replace lost fresh fish sales from established retailers.
There are still many uncertainties ahead, particularly with regard to the duration and severity of the pandemic, but a prolonged market downturn is likely to introduce long-term transformations to the sector.