PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Commercial fishing taking place worldwide has declined since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but conservation scientists and experts say it’s unclear whether the delay will help restore endangered species of marine life.
The number of hours registered by fishermen at sea declined by almost 10% worldwide after the March 11 statement of a pandemic, and fishing stopped completely in some hard-hit countries such as China. The decline in fishing has raised questions about food security, ocean management and world trade.
As countries resume fishing, new questions are emerging as to whether an extended delay in fishing can help rare ocean animals, such as the North Atlantic whale. The whale only counts about 400 and is vulnerable to deadly entanglement in fishing gear.
Less fishing can also help endanger fish stocks in the Mediterranean, where the overfished Atlantic bluefin tuna live. And many rare species are vulnerable to accidental catch, called by-catch, in fishing gear.
But it’s too early to greet the interruption of fishing lines and nets, said David Kroodsma, director of research and innovation for the nonprofit Global Fishing Watch. And since millions of people depend on fishing for their livelihood and livelihood, any benefit to marine life has come at a cost, he said.
“I don’t think we should celebrate here. Not by making people suffer incredibly, ‘said Kroodsma. “I bet we’ll find that rebuilding supplies in places they need to rebuild is not enough.”
Fishermen around the world registered about 6.8 million hours at sea from March 11 to April 28, down about 700,000 hours from averages from the past two years, according to data collected by Global Fishing Watch. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said the pandemic has caused “changing consumer demands, market access or logistical problems” that could make fishing indefinitely difficult.
The time spent with moored boats was much more serious in countries like Italy, Spain, and France, where major virus outbreaks occurred, Kroodsma said. Fisheries in those countries fell by 50% to 75%, he said.
Fisheries have been halted due to concerns about the spread of the virus on boats and the reduced demand for seafood. Two-thirds of U.S. seafood spending is in restaurants, according to a study in the June 2020 journal Nutrients, and thousands of those remain closed by social distance rules.
As a result, some fishermen are bringing less catch to the harbor so far this year. According to U.S. statistics, U.S. Atlantic herring catches had declined by more than a fifth – nearly 3 million pounds (1.4 million kilograms) – until the end of May. Herring is an important species because it is used as a food for humans and as a bait for more profitable fishing, such as lobster.
None of this necessarily means rebuilding fish populations, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute’s trading group. U.S. fisheries are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and plans to help restore species can be highly technical and can take years, Gibbons said.
“It’s much more specific than giving fish a break and they will be rebuilt,” he said.
But in some parts of the world, there is hope that less fishing will help restore fragile ecosystems. In the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, Ravaka Ranaivoson, director of the Marine Conservation Society of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said that overfishing, along with climate change, is threatening coral reef health.
“We are always concerned about people who use illegal fishing gear, and do not respect the rules on fishing size and other restrictions,” said Ranaivoson, adding that her team has worked with local communities to try to adopt more sustainable practices.
But the virus has also caused many disruptions to fishing in Madagascar, an important part of the economy.
First, communities that generally follow good fishing practices suffer financial damage because their regular customers, especially tourist hotels and restaurants, don’t have to buy as much fish, leading to lower prices. “The price of fish has fallen by 50-70%,” said Ranaivoson.
On the other hand, more people without regular work have to somehow feed themselves.
“In some areas, people who live there are afraid to go outside because of the virus, but sometimes people come outside to fish for the area,” and they are less concerned with the long-term health of fishing, she said. .
A study in the journal Marine Policy this year stated that slightly less lobster fishing will not necessarily harm the fishermen economically, but it could help the endangered right whale. The authors, who conducted the study before the pandemic took its toll on fishing, said fishing less but more efficiently could actually lead to more gains for crustaceans.
Co-author Hannah Myers, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the virus outbreak represents “an unfortunate natural experiment” that will certainly impact fishing.
The long-term effects of the fishing slowdown remain to be seen, although coastal communities returning to work may become short-lived.
“We definitely see cleaner water, fewer ships and fewer entanglements,” said Jake Bleich, a spokesperson for the Defenders of Wildlife conservation group. “We’ll see what happens when the economy reboots.”
Larson reported from Washington, DC
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