SEATTLE, Washington — Across the globe, an estimated 35 million people work in the fishing industry, most of whom live in developing countries. Despite significant growth over the past several decades, the fishing industry has suffered considerably in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The effects have been particularly burdensome for small fish farms in “fish-dependent communities,” low-income countries and small islands.
Change in international supply chains
COVID-19 response measures, such as restaurant closures and bans on travel, have curbed global fish demand. In addition to the collapse of the international fish market, local demand has dropped significantly due to the virus. For example, in China, the cancellation of lunar new year celebrations, which typically involves large seafood consumption, left local fisheries struggling.
Trade restrictions, country-wide lockdowns and shortages of aquaculture equipment have also caused logistical challenges in the fish trade. The negative impacts on fish trade have reduced income for many countries and have even threatened food security in several regions.
Impact on developing countries
In many developing countries, the fishing industry has become of great economic importance over the past several decades. The sector bolstered growing economies and has also provided food security for many nations. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, fish is considered an “essential food” in the developing world.
The shock to the international fish trade has left many developing nations struggling. Labor shortages, increased competition for transportation services and a lack of money have disrupted the livelihoods of fish industry workers.
Migrant fishers, women, ethnic minorities and crew members have suffered the most amidst the pandemic. Workers often have no access to social protection or relief aid, leaving them even more vulnerable to COVID-19. Moreover, many fishing workers have experienced extreme difficulty returning home due to quarantine measures.
Hope for the fishing industry
Despite the many challenges the fishing industry has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, some fishing communities have adapted well.
While demand for fresh fish has declined substantially over the past few months, consumers have shifted toward canned, frozen and processed fish products. With these types of products having a more stable shelf life, consumers have begun stockpiling them. The rise in demand for non-fresh fish products has allowed industries like processed salmon and whitefish to excel in comparison to previous years.
Additionally, the global supply chain shock has made way for local fish farmers where demand is high. The decline in fish imports has allowed some local fisheries to make up for demand shortages. In particular, Kenyan fisheries have benefitted from such patterns.
COVID-19 has stunted the global fishing industry. It is hopeful that fishing businesses in the developed world will recover. However, the future for small fish farmers in developing countries remains uncertain.
– Mary Kate Langan