Corona and the consequences for fish and fishing in the Mediterranean Sea
The corona crisis has the entire world in its grip. Dramatic measures have been taken worldwide to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to manage the consequences of the pandemic. Many borders have been closed and lockdown measures have been implemented in almost every country around the world. For the fishing sector, this has an effect on work, income and food safety.
Aside from personal suffering and the economic crisis, we have also seen positive signs pointing to the recovery of nature as a result of this near standstill. Does that make this crisis a blessing in disguise for the recovery of fish resources? And what will this mean for the fishing sector in the near future?
Adessium focuses on the transition to a sustainable economy and healthy marine ecosystems. We have been placing a more substantial emphasis on the Mediterranean Sea in recent years since this is where we see the greatest opportunities to achieve our objective. What are the consequences of the corona crisis for this area?
Corona, fishing and market in the Mediterranean Sea
Fishing activities in the Mediterranean Sea dropped considerably at the start of the crisis, mainly because of reduced demand from hotels and restaurants, due to lack of tourism Marilles Foundation reports. According to the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the catch decreased by more than 75% in March and April. Now that the restrictions are slowly being eased, the catch is rising once again and is currently at 20 to 70% of the previous level, depending on the region and form of fishing.
Illegal activities at sea
One major concern is the increase in illegal activities at sea as a result of the reduction in monitoring and enforcement at sea due to the crisis. Patrols aren’t always going out anymore and inspectors are not boarding vessels since it isn’t always possible to keep a safe distance.
For the WWF, it is crucial to prevent the increase in illegal, unregulated and unreported activities (IUU). The organization advocates applying measures to fight illegal fishing, and enforcing regulations, as well as reporting of violations and non-compliance.
Oceana also believes it’s important to prevent the sea from becoming a free zone for illegal activities, and to avoid the slackening of attention for monitoring and enforcement in times of crisis. There are good digital options for following what is happening on the water. Thanks to support from Adessium, Oceana has set up Global Fishing Watch, a worldwide tracking system for fishing vessels. The information acquired shows whether or not the vessels’ behavior is consistent with that of fishing activities. Activity at sea may be followed by everyone in real-time, online on the Global Fishing Watch map.
While Oceana is cautious in calling attention to the positive effects of this crisis, it does believe that COVID-19 offers society an opportunity to reflect. We have seen how important nature is to us in times of crisis (more people have been going outside to enjoy the great outdoors during the lockdown) and how our actions may sometimes have a harmful effect on nature. This heightened awareness is a good breeding ground for changing our actions and behavior, transforming them into efforts to protect and repair nature.
This crisis also offers an opportunity to gather more knowledge about the effect of reduced fishing pressure on the recovery of fish resources, thereby allowing better choices to be made for the future. Good data monitoring is required to achieve this, using both existing tools as well as exploring new possibilities for exchanging data and information about the consequences of the crisis. The OECD  sees promising opportunities in the analysis of remote sensing, satellite data, and information from various ship monitoring technologies.
Marilles Foundation saw that there was more demand from local people for local products because they were willing to support local fishermen. As a result – at least in the Balearics – in spite of working less, the fishing fleet managed to cope relatively well because rent per unit of effort went up. Marilles sees in this a glimpse of the “fish less – earn more” goal the organization aims for.
Appeals by NGOs
The EU has made funding available to help fishermen through this difficult time. NGOs understand the need for support to fishermen, but concerns remain about what will happen after this crisis. The reduction in fishing pressure over the past few months appears to have resulted in a tentative growth in fish resources. However, once the sector returns to fishing on the previous scale, this growth will quickly be reversed. This is why various NGOs are appealing to the EU to make subsidies granted to the fishing sector conditional on the protection and recovery of the marine areas.
Adessium and the Mediterranean Sea
Adessium supports a range of organizations in the Mediterranean Sea region such as WWF/Mediterranean Marine Initiative, Oceana, Marilles Foundation, Blue Marine Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council and others.
A group of 20 to 25 representatives of several NGOs are working together under the name Med Sea Alliance to put an end to overfishing and destructive and illegal fishing practices in the Mediterranean Sea. Adessium supports this alliance by developing a common vision and course of action.
All in all, this corona crisis has had an effect on fish and fishing in the Mediterranean Sea and steps will have to be taken to building back better. Now is the time to learn from the crisis and gain better insights into the effects of fishing pressure on fish stocks. It is also high time to take measures to combat overfishing and to enforce these when illegal activity is detected.
And let’s keep in mind: we don’t need a crisis to restore fish stocks! We can have healthy fish stocks and prosperous fishing communities while the economy keeps running.
About this program
The People & Nature program focuses on the transition to a sustainable economy, nature restoration on land and healthy marine ecosystems. In recent years, we have focused largely on the Mediterranean Sea because there we see the greatest opportunities for achieving our objectives.
Adessium supports various organizations in the Mediterranean area, like WWF/Mediterranean Marine Initiative, Oceana, Marilles Foundation, Blue Marine Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council and other.