Black Sea’s hard-hit seafood sector looks to bounce back from COVID -19

Published on
April 23, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the fisheries sector in the Black Sea region, Romanian Member of the European Parliament Carmen Avram said this week.

Speaking at the international conference, “Fisheries and Aquaculture in the Danube and the Black Sea Region: Views for Building Forward Better,” on 22 April, Avram, who is the vice chair of the European Parliament Intergroup Seas, Rivers, Islands, and Coastal Areas (SEArica), responsible for the Danube and the Black Sea areas, advised that in the region, fishing and aquaculture rank among the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic. This, she said, is mainly due to the preventative measures introduced at a national and international level to limit COVID-19 transmission rates, including the temporary closure of retail and foodservice businesses, home confinement and halts to business travel.

Co-organized by the Balkan and Black Sea Commission of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR BBSC) and the International Centre for Black Sea Studies (ICBSS), the conference aimed to study the challenges the pandemic created for the fisheries sector, including supply chain disruptions, and to discuss potential future growth opportunities.

“The fish sector has been subject to the indirect impacts of the pandemic through changing consumer demands, market access, and logistical problems related to transportation and other restrictions. These in turn have had a direct effect on fishers’ and fish farmers’ livelihoods, as well as on food security and nutrition for a population relying heavily on fish for animal protein and essential micronutrients,” Avram said.

Citing General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean’s (GFCM) analysis, Avram said capture fisheries have seen an 80 percent reduction in the number of vessels operating in the region, with the small-scale coastal fleet being the most-impacted, with just 10 percent of vessels operating in some cases. For aquaculture farms, the level of activity has varied widely depending on the type of species being reared, Avram said.

According to GFCM’s data, prior to the pandemic, the region’s fisheries comprised 11,539 vessels, some 91 percent of which were engaged in small-scale fisheries. In total, the fisheries sector generated revenues of USD 350 million (EUR 290 million), with 41 percent coming from the small-scale fisheries. This was based on an overall catch of 390,000 metric tons (MT). The sector employed an estimated 20,768 people, 74 percent of which were in the small-scale fisheries sector.

To address the impacts of COVID-19, numerous measures have been taken across the region, Avram said. On the market side, to maintain food supplies, these have included expanding home-delivery services and direct sales and supporting local and national production through consumer awareness campaigns. From a social perspective, meanwhile, in addition to the provision of financial support and insurance payouts to individuals, there has been enhanced investment in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, as well as changes in specific fisheries management and control measures.

“These are good measures, of course. But they have an impact on the fisheries communities that were already in decline before the pandemic. For example, the communities involved in sturgeon fishing in the Danube and Black Sea were already having problems with their livelihoods and now they have been further affected by the pandemic,” Avram said. “In light of the notable impacts on the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, there will be a need to continue monitoring the evolution of the crisis and to take steps to support the recovery. Such efforts will include continuing to promote decent working conditions so that those able to work can do so safely, strengthening the supply chains and avoiding waste, promoting direct sales and innovative market channels, and supporting investments.”

There will also be a need to evaluate the effects of reducing fishing pressure on natural resources, she said.

“A mix of immediate action and long-term strategic initiatives is needed to secure and reconcile the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in the Black Sea region,” Avram said.

European Commission Deputy Head of Fisheries Management in the Mediterranean and Black Sea Barbara Focquet said at the conference that “irreparable damage” was not caused to the sectors as a result of COVID-19. Focquet said support had come in the form of a package of financial support provided for E.U. member-states to mitigate the “shocks” of COVID-19, and an amendment to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) that had allocated an additional EUR 6.6 million (USD 8 million) and EUR 6 million (USD 7.3 million) in support, respectively, to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors of Bulgaria and Romania.

Focquet said opportunities were to be had for those involved in the Black Sea’s marine economy by learning lessons from current challenges, including the pandemic, as well as through further regional cooperation, improved scientific cooperation and advice, developing new conservation measures, and strengthening the region’s compliance and fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) fishing.

“There is a need to coordinate action for the development of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, and we have the necessary tools to succeed and take advantage of these opportunities,” Focquet said.

Alongside the 80 percent reduction in the region’s operating fleet, the COVID-19 crisis led to a 74 percent decrease in production and a price slump of 20 to 70 percent, depending on species. There was also a 30 to 40 percent drop in the revenues earned by aquaculture operations, according to GFCM Subregional Coordinator for the Black Sea Konstantin Petrov.

“This was the moment that shocked everybody. At the beginning of this crisis, nobody knew how to process, but one thing was clear, and that was that regional cooperation should be strengthened and made more flexible to be prepared for this kind of crisis,” Petrov said. “Looking at the next steps and the opportunities in a post-COVID era, a new strategy and common vision is needed for the Mediterranean and Black Sea.”

Petrov said this effort is underway via the new GFCM 2021-2030 Strategy, which incorporates main targets like making seas healthy and fisheries more productive, increasing compliance and enforcement related to IUU fishing, establishing a sustainable and resilient aquaculture sector capable of growing to its full potential, and creating decent employment opportunities with fishers engaged toward profitable fisheries. The new strategy is on track to be adopted in June 2020, he said.

Photo courtesy of samoila ionut/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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