Corona and the consequences for fish stock in the Mediterranean Sea

Adessium focuses on the protection and restoration of valuable marine ecosystems. We have been placing a substantial emphasis on the Mediterranean Sea in recent years where 74% of the fish stock studied are suffering from overfishing.

In 2020, the corona crisis had the entire world in its grip. Dramatic measures have been taken worldwide to mitigate the spread of the virus. Social distancing became mandatory, borders were closed, and lockdown measures were put in place. For the fisheries sector, this had an effect on the sector’s sales, management, control and research. 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.

What are the consequences of the corona crisis for the Mediterranean Sea? And do they make this crisis a blessing in disguise for the recovery of fish stock? We asked our partners Oceana and Marilles Foundation to share their findings with us.

Impact of corona on fisheries pressure in the Mediterranean Sea

According to the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the Mediterranean Sea catch decreased by more than 75% in March and April. The expectation was that the substantial reduction in fishing activities during the very first phase of the pandemic would lower pressure on fish stock. The fact that larger numbers of marine mammals were now being observed along the coasts than before was seen as one of the positive effects of the reduction in shipping, tourism and fisheries. Nonetheless, it is still too early to establish whether or not there will actually be significant positive effects on the ecosystems for the longer term.

Marilles Foundation reports that the fishing activities in the Mediterranean Sea in the spring of 2020 have in fact shown a considerable decrease, primarily due to the reduced demand from hotels and restaurants from the absence of tourism. During the full lockdown in Spain from mid-March to mid-May, hotels and restaurants were closed and tourists stopped coming to the area. The fishing fleet took advantage of the downturn and got organized to reduce fishing activities and keep the prices stable. As the restrictions were slowly relaxed, the catch rose gradually to reach the level it was at before the crisis, varying by region and fisheries type.

Concerns about the progress of monitoring and enforcement at sea

The COVID social distancing measures can result in temporary (or permanent) limitations on monitoring and enforcement at sea. One major concern is that this can lead to an increase in illegal activities. Additionally, the pandemic has limited the ability of fisheries scientists to collect data at sea. This has potential consequences for the quality and quantity of information that is available for research.

Oceana believes it’s crucial to prevent the sea from becoming a free zone for illegal activities, and to ensure that attention for monitoring and enforcement in times of crisis doesn’t taper off. There are good digital options available for following what is happening on the water. The OECD sees promising opportunities in the analysis of remote sensing, satellite data, and information from various technologies used to track and trace ships.

Thanks to support from Adessium, Oceana has set up Global Fishing Watch, a worldwide tracking system for fishing vessels, and has recently added transport ships. The information obtained will allow the detection of fishing vessels involved in (potentially) illegal activities at sea. Anyone can follow activity at sea in real-time, online on the Global Fishing Watch map. The results of the study Global Fishing Watch is currently conducting on illegal activities in the Mediterranean Sea are expected to be available in May 2021.


While Oceana is cautious in calling attention to the positive effects of this crisis, it does believe that the coronavirus pandemic offers society an opportunity to reflect. We have seen how important nature is to us in times of crisis and how our actions 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 conserve and restore nature.

This crisis also offers an opportunity to gather more knowledge on the effect of reduced fisheries pressure on the recovery of fish stock, thereby allowing better choices to be made for the future. Good data monitoring is a requirement for research, and part of this can be done with existing instruments. It is also important to explore new possibilities for exchanging data and information about the consequences of the crisis.

Marilles Foundation has seen a rising demand from local people for local products, born of their desire to support local fishermen. This is part of the reason the fishing fleet managed to survive the crisis relatively well, at least in the Balearics and Catalonia, where the fisheries sector only suffered minor economic losses compared with 2019. The data shows that some fleets adapted very well to the situation. They cut back on their fishing activities, improved the economic results and succeeded in keeping profits comparable to those from 2019, despite the fact that they fished a fewer number of days. Marilles views this as proof that “you can fish less and earn more, or at any rate, the same amount”, and that the Mediterranean Sea fishing fleet can compensate for the reduction in fishing activities without this having substantial economic effects on the fleet.

It is high time to turn the tide and to work on the transition from overfishing to a sustainable fisheries sector and conservation of the marine environment. This requires collective action and the combination of expertise from different fields. A group of around 25 representatives from several NGOs are working together under the name Med Sea Alliance to put an end to overfishing and destructive and illegal fisheries practices in the Mediterranean Sea. Adessium supports this alliance by developing a common vision and course of action.

In conclusion

All in all, the corona crisis has had an effect on marine ecosystems and fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea and steps will have to be taken to build back better. Now is the time to learn from the effects of the crisis. It is also the perfect opportunity to take measures to fight overfishing, destructive and illegal fisheries and to work on the recovery and rebuilding of the sector.

About this program

Adessium contributes to initiatives that focus on the conservation and restoration of areas with important ecological value. We look for innovative interventions such as restoring natural processes in valuable landscapes in the Netherlands and Europe. In addition, we pay special attention to the Mediterranean Sea, the most overfished sea in the world. In order to protect the biodiversity of this region, one of the things we concentrate on is the creation of marine protected areas and sustainable fisheries.




Adessium supports a range of organizations in the Mediterranean Sea region such as Blue Marine Foundation, Marilles Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, MedReAct, Oceana and WWF/Mediterranean Marine Initiative.

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