What to remember, learn and expect from COVID-19

Welcome back now open sign showing businesses opening back up after covid 19 forced the shut down of the economy for months spiking cases.
Welcome back now open sign showing businesses opening back up after covid 19 forced the shut down of the economy for months spiking cases.

COVID-19 changed our lives. Although we want to leave it behind, as with all crises, it is worth to take stock of the situation and be self-critical. Thereby, we can see how we changed and how we are going to face other possible challenges in the future.

We already know fish and fishery products suffered quite early pandemic consequences due to global market restrictions and closures. Besides, the closure of the food service sectors affected severely fresh fish and shellfish supply chains. Also, the processing sector also faced closures due to reduced/lost consumer demand. Furthermore and more particularly, the salmon industry was hit by rising air freight costs and flight cancellations.

According to the FAO, fish and fishery products are among the most traded food products in the world, with 38% of fish/shellfish entering international trade. In addition, fish farming is very important for the livelihoods of many fish-dependent communities. Also for low-income countries and small island developing states.

On the other hand, and by trying to see the bright side of things, a prolonged recession in the market might introduce a long-term transformation in the sector.

The following solutions were introduced as preventive and have finally been adapted to improve the functioning of the industry. For example, digital innovation, accelerated shifts to web-based applications, online services, and improved product traceability and sustainability.

Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been working with local fishworkers and with small aquaculture producers on responsible fishing value chains. These iniciatives were based on tracking catches and connecting with private households.

Fresh tropical fish in the market,with background the fishing port.Mauritius island.

In addition, consumers have transformed their preferences into contactless deliveries. They search for minimal intervention by intermediaries. In short, this has accelerated the development of more direct fish marketing and home delivery services.

Before the pandemic crisis, there was already an increasing tendency of requesting a minimum of intermediaries between fishermen and consumers. Consequently, this has allowed better traceability in terms of fish supply chains, lower hygiene management costs, and the consumption promotion of more sustainable, local and seasonal fish. Some experts think this could have greater benefits for fishermen and the general resilience of the sector.

Keeping in mind the health of our oceans

Likewise, the pandemic forces us to continue asking ourselves about the health of our oceans and if we are doing it right.

The crisis has had positive effects too on the health of some fish populations. As well as on biodiversity in general. For instance, decreasing market production temporarily, through cold storage, has helped to reduce the loss and waste of seafood throughout the supply chain.

Frozen fish in a commercial freezer. Different river fish, fish cakes, sea bass.

The sustainability of the sector is another of the challenges that will have to be faced. When creating new policies or regulations and to compensate losses during the recovery period there is a need to take into account other factors. These are also affecting fishing opportunities, such as the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and the war in Ukraine.

Always forward

Recently, the European Commission decided to activate new crisis measures to support the fishery and aquaculture sectors in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and already damaged by the pandemic. The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) will try to compensate operators of the fishery, aquaculture and seafood processing sectors. By financial compensation for their economic losses and additional costs.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, commented on this: "The fishery and aquaculture sectors are heavily impacted by the war. There are still financial resources available under the EMFAF. We give the possibility to Member States to reallocate them to specific measures mitigating the socio-economic impact of the crisis."

Companies like Cargill started to work with nonprofit and NGO partners. As a result, to help address food security, health and safety needs and industry challenges due to the spread of COVID-19. The global food corporation, allocate $35M to COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts. This was through global and regional partnerships, product donations and employee personal giving.

Finally, in an exclusive interview for WeAreAquaculture, head of aquatic research facilities design in AquaBioTech Group, Michele Gallo, reminded us how restrictions like quarantine or traveling stood in the way of the completion of major projects. This is why he understood the important of being resilient" and having a wide portfolio of activities. Even so, he encouraged: "I have already seen a lot kind of rebounds in more projects than you think. People are more enthusiastic."

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