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Estimating the impact of COVID-19 on fishing

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On 9 March 2020, Italy was the first EU Member State to go on a nationwide lockdown in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Soon after, many other countries followed suit, albeit to different extents. At the time of writing, the first wave of coronavirus transmission has passed its peak in most EU countries, but the death toll is still projected to increase, leaving our communities mourning the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Over the past few weeks, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing pictures of the most iconic places in our big cities – the same that not long ago would be bristling with life – now looking in all their majestic emptiness as glimpses of a post-apocalyptic future.

We haven’t seen many pictures of our seas, though. Perhaps it’s because we tend to associate the seas with an endless and quiet bodies of water. In fact, it is endless but not quiet. In December 2019, EMODnet Human Activities made available EU route density maps, courtesy of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). These maps now complement EMODnet’s vessel density maps, released in March 2019.

For a couple of months, the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) has been publishing a COVID-19 bulletin, highlighting how the fisheries sector has been struggling to remain profitable despite plummeting demand for fish products. However, with reduced demand and social distancing measures in place, some fishers soon realised that they would be better off by stopping fishing altogether. Which is exactly what happened, for instance, in the English Channel:

April 2019

April 2020

And the English Channel wasn’t even one of the most affected sea basins. We crunched some numbers and found out that on average fishing vessel density reduced by 18% compared to the same period in 2019 in EU sea basins. There is great variance though, and some sea basins were hit harder than others:

*The increase in the Black Sea is most certainly due to improved data coverage in 2020. So, it doesn’t indicate an actual increase in fishing boat density or in fishing activity.

April 2019

April 2020

The fishing density maps were derived from signals derived from ships’ automatic identification systems for avoiding collisions. Similar conclusions can be drawn from the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) used for fisheries control. Neither system includes the smaller artisanal vessels that fish nearer the coast which make up a particularly high proportion of vessels in the Mediterranean.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll post more insights on what you can do with EMODnet data. In the meantime, we invite you to check out our map viewer and find out how COVID-19 is affecting the blue economy and the marine environment. VLIZ, the Flanders Marine Institute have used the same data to estimate the impact of COVID-19 on shipping off the Belgian coast. Their work is available here.

The information and views set out in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on the European Commission's behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information therein.

May 28th, 2020 | Written by

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