Marine and aquatic ecosystems are under stress from climate change, overfishing and unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices in some areas, as well as pollution from various other human activities, which lead to ocean acidification, declining biodiversity and presently the COVID-19 pandemic.
With most capture fisheries worldwide considered fully exploited or overexploited, aquaculture will be central to meeting fish demand, which will continue to increase with population growth, rising incomes and increasing urbanisation. Fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of nearly half a billion people across the world. Led by the rapid development of aquaculture, especially in Asia, global seafood consumption has grown at twice the rate of the population since the early 1960s.
The fisheries and aquaculture sector has much to contribute to securing all the SDGs, but is at the core of SDG 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The fisheries and aquaculture sector has much to contribute to securing all the SDGs, but is at the core of SDG 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. As custodian of four out of ten indicators of SDG 14 progress, FAO has an obligation to accelerate the global momentum to secure healthy and productive oceans, a momentum whose pace will receive further impetus at the second United Nations Ocean Conference.
A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has indicate that fisheries and aquaculture have been hard hit by the global health crisis and could face further disruption in 2021 as lockdowns affect supply and demand across the sector. The report titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Fisheries and Aquaculture Food Systems,” was featured during the 34th session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) hosted by FAO.
Due to containment restrictions fish supply, consumption and trade revenues for 2020 are all expected to have declined. Also the report noted, while global aquaculture production is expected to fall by some 1.3 per cent, the first fall recorded by the sector in several years.
FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo said: “The pandemic has caused widespread upheaval in fisheries and aquaculture as production has been disrupted, supply chains have been interrupted and consumer spending restricted by various lockdowns.”
“Containment measures have provoked far-reaching changes, many of which are likely to persist in the long term.”
Maria Helena Semedo
While food itself is not responsible for the transmission of COVID-19 to people, the report stressed every stage of the fisheries and aquaculture supply chain is susceptible to being disrupted or stopped by containment restrictions. Aggregate prices for 2020, as measured by the Fish Price Index are down year-on-year for most traded species. Restaurant and hotel closures in many countries have also led to a fall in demand for fresh fish products.
“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. They have borne the brunt of restrictions.”
Maria Helena Semedo
In aquaculture there is growing evidence that unsold production will result in increasing levels of live fish stocks, creating higher costs for feeding as well as greater number of fish mortalities, the report noted. Sectors with longer production cycles, such as salmon, cannot adjust rapidly to the demand shifts. Global catches from wild fisheries are also expected to have declined slightly in 2020, as, overall, there has been a reduced fishing effort due to COVID‑19-related restrictions on fishing vessel crews and poor market conditions. As a result of Covid-19, consumer preferences have shifted. While demand for fresh fish has waned, consumer demand for packaged and frozen products has grown as households look to stock up on non-perishable food.
Meanwhile, the sector was on a general upwards trend prior the pandemic. In 2018, global fisheries and aquaculture production (excluding aquatic plants) reached an all time record of nearly 179 million tonnes. Overall capture fisheries, with 96.4 million tonnes represented 54 percent of the total, while aquaculture, with 82.1 million tonnes, accounted for 46 percent. And over the last decades, fish consumption has grown significantly to an average of over 20 kilos per person.
Consequently, FAO has called for disruptive border restriction measures on trade in food to be minimized for food security. The report called for sectoral and regional organizations to work together in order to manage fisheries and aquaculture during the pandemic, with measures that support job protection and ensure a fast recovery of the sector without compromising sustainability.
Furthermore, the report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on women, already vulnerable as food producers, processors, vendors and carers, should also be considered with government support provided for women along the fish value chain. Uncertainty continues to dominate the outlook for the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, particularly with regard to the duration and severity of the pandemic. This year COFI 34 is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, a landmark instrument endorsed by FAO member states, that has been guiding efforts towards sustainable fisheries and aquaculture around the world.
In conclusion, with the uncertainty in the sector posed by the pandemic and other issues, the code’s principles have never been more vital to ensure the fisheries sector remains viable and sustainable, the report stated.