42 of 100: Ag and COVID: FAO Q&A: COVID-19 pandemic – impact on fisheries and aquaculture

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The Agtech lab continues to look at how COVID 19 is likely to affect vulnerable community in the the fisheries and aquaculture industry through this FAO Q&A.

Q5: What are the implications for the most vulnerable?

The pandemic has created in an unprecedented economic, social and health crisis with impacts on the most vulnerable groups including women (harvesters, processors and vendors), migrant fishers, fish workers, ethnic minorities and crew members. Many individuals are not registered, operate in the informal labour market with no labour market policies, including no social protection and no access to relief package/aid. These conditions might exacerbate the secondary effects of COVID-19, including poverty and hunger.

The small-scale fisheries sector is trying to make ends meet, to continue fishing and provide locally-caught fresh fish, but it is experiencing great difficulties due to the closure of markets, limited storage facilities, falling wholesale fish prices and new sanitary requirements and physical distancing measures. Because of these difficulties, many activities have been reduced. The reduction of fishing and fish farming activities will reduce the amount of fish available for processing and trade. Furthermore, mobility restrictions will adversely affect the transfer of fish to markets. This will particularly impact women, who are mostly in charge of these activities. Food loss and waste could also increase if processors do not have access to appropriate storage and cold chain facilities. Frontline employees who are processing seafood are suffering from a lack of protective equipment and clothing, which highlights the general lack of access to hygiene and protective equipment for the vulnerable workers of the seafood industry.

In the current situation, migrant fishers and fish workers, including ethnic minorities, are unable to return to their native villages due to lockdowns. They require immediate assistance including food and transportation (where movement restrictions permit) to reach their villages.

Working conditions and the safety of fishers at sea will be negatively affected should the number of fishers available to crew vessels be reduced. The availability of crew may be reduced for various reasons including inter alia contracting COVID-19, restrictions on movements or wider lockdowns. In addition, it is difficult for fishermen to maintain physical distancing measures of a metre apart on board fishing vessels. Should fishing vessels be forced to operate with fewer crew members, this may result in working longer hours, which will compromise safety measures and thereby put the well-being and health of fishers at risk.

Crew on large-scale industrial vessels (pelagic trawlers, purse seiners), that work in rotations of several weeks before being replaced by another crew during their work break, are unable to travel home due to flight restrictions and quarantine periods. As a consequence, they are working longer periods on board, which increases the likelihood of on-board accidents, fatigue and stress (also relevant to the health of family members back home).

Large-scale fishing vessels of distant water fishing fleets also risk outbreaks of COVID-19 cases among crew members while away at sea. COVID-19 may spread rapidly among crew members of a vessel, and medical assistance is not always readily available. Also, when trying to enter a port where the crew are not nationals of the port state, access may be denied. 


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