For years many scientists have sought to reduce the impact of overfishing by calling for temporary bans on catching certain species. Now safety restrictions, social distancing, and restaurant closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have forced fishing fleets around the world to pause operations.
The multinational Mediterranean Advisory Council even announced in a recent report, “The demand for fresh fish as well as the selling prices have collapsed.”
Since industrial fishing began, overfishing has decimated the populations of high-demand fish, such as Pacific bluefin tuna and Mediterranean swordfish, by a staggering 90 percent. In fact, annual figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations show that while fishing boats stay out longer each year, they return with fewer fish. Yet consumption of fish continues to increase.
But the fish the industry targets are not its only victims. The commercial fishing industry kills countless whales, dolphins, turtles, and sharks as untargeted “bycatch.” Mercy For Animals has conducted multiple undercover investigations exposing the blatant animal cruelty and widespread destruction of marine life by the driftnet fishing industry.
The industry claims many human victims too. A 2015 Associated Press investigation uncovered a system of grueling forced labor in the commercial fishing industry in Southeast Asia, which supplies fish and shrimp markets around the world, including in the United States.
But there is hope. The current decrease in industrial fishing, scientists point out, may allow fish populations to recover and people to develop a more sustainable way of managing the earth’s waters. Rainer Froese of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany stated:
Most European fish stocks (whitefish, flatfish, herring) will nearly double their biomass within one year without fishing.
COVID-19 isn’t the first catastrophe to affect fishing and fish populations this way. Marine biologist Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries explained:
This involuntary closure of fisheries will certainly have a beneficial effect on fish stocks. ... The same thing happened during World War I and World War II: Our wars (another disease we have) are good for the fish.
During World War II, many fishing boats in Europe and North America were repurposed, allowing fish like cod, haddock, and plaice to flourish. Unfortunately, after the war, fish were caught in record numbers. But maybe this time, we can do better. The coronavirus pandemic has forced people to pause and see how quickly nature can recover when given the chance.
We can all make a huge difference for fish and other animals simply by eating more plant-based foods. Reducing the demand for fish will help keep fishing fleets out of the water and give aquatic animals a chance to thrive.
Ready to get started? Take the pledge to eat plant-based at PlantPledge.org. We’ll send tips and tasty recipes for you to help the environment and animals from home.