COVID-19: Bad For Fishermen, Good For Fish?


“It is so damn peaceful and relaxing out here.”

Commercial fisheries are yet another example of the yin and yang of the pandemic era. The US commercial fishing industry, like so many industries, is being crushed, with demand plummeting:

The novel coronavirus pandemic has destroyed demand for seafood across a complicated U.S. supply chain, from luxury items such as lobster and crab, generally consumed at restaurants, to grocery staples sourced from the world’s fish farms.

Now, with restaurants closed, many of the nation’s fisheries — across geography, species, gear types and management — have reported sales slumps as high as 95 percent.

Boats from Honolulu to Buzzards Bay, Mass., are tied up dockside, with fisheries in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska affected, throwing thousands of fishermen out of work and devastating coastal communities.

This is brutal for fishing industry workers, and the relief bills coming out of Congress do not do enough to cushion the blows. But it is logical to assume that this forced hiatus for US commercial fishing is a big benefit to all the fish stocks commercial fishermen target.

In the meantime, it is worth asking whether this pandemic might be a good time to restructure and shrink the global fishing industry. All the blather about “sustainable fisheries” aside, humanity is devastating fish stocks throughout the oceans. Only a tiny percentage is not overfished or maxed out (and, remember, that is a self-interested human judgement). If the fishing industry comes back from COVID, much smaller, and puts a lot less pressure on global fish stocks, that would be a good thing.

That is not to advocate throwing fishermen around the planet into poverty and destitution. But it is to say this would be a good time for governments everywhere to help idled fishermen with the financial support and education they need to find new ways to make a living. Like regenerative agriculture, for example.

Climate change had already brought humanity to an inflection point that demands global change. COVID is reinforcing, and bringing urgency, to that inflection. The massive disruptions of this pandemic are costly and painful. They are also an opportunity to revolutionize how we live and how we care for the planet.

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