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.

Blue Skies, Courtesy Of COVID-19

This is nice, right?

The novel coronavirus is giving us a novel glimpse of one of the many benefits to the planet that would occur if humanity could slow its roll.

But one unintended upside to this crisis has been improved air quality, particularly in the hardest-hit areas where the most draconian measures have gone into force. This has been evident in Asia, including China’s Hubei province, where this virus began spreading among humans. It’s also a trend observed in Italy, another devastated region with several thousand deaths.

Now, given that all but a handful of states have implemented stay-at-home orders, the air-quality shifts are also being seen in the United States. This offers a rare — and unintended — large-scale experiment for scientists to see how human emissions contribute to hazardous air quality and analyze the effectiveness of particular policy ideas…[snip]

…Before stay-at-home orders were issued March 16, Zhu said, the EPA’s Air Quality Index, which incorporates multiple air pollutants, including NO2 and PM2.5 (fine particulate matter), was about 60, or in the “moderate” category. Since then, it has improved by about 20 percent and recorded the longest stretch of “good” air quality in March seen since at least 1995.

When a sharp reduction in human presence and activity leads to visible improvements to the welfare and wellbeing of the planet and its other species, it is time to take a hard look at what we could be doing to live more lightly.