Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting fish and seafood trade. Future consequences will be far-reaching. Ahead of its yearly international conference to be held in Alexandria, Egypt, the African Chapter of the World Aquaculture Society has raised concerns on the impact of the pandemic on sustainable aquaculture, DANIEL ESSIET writes.
For the African Chapter of the World Aquaculture Society, fish and other aquatic foods are vital to the food system. The body believes that falling production and delayed stocking of aquaculture system will lead to lower supplies, access, and consumption of fish.
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread globally, the African Chapter of the global body has raised concerns on the need to curtail its impact on the fish production system.
The industry has been dealing with a disruption of demand resulting in dire consequences for the supply chain of fish.
The industry has been devastated by problems, such as decrease in demand from large-scale buyers, particularly, restaurants, and the shutdown of markets. Sales and prices of premium seafood products that are sold to restaurants have been hit hard.
Fish farmers are incurring debts in feeding stocks as they are not harvesting, and are running into problems of importing brood stock.
Disruptions in the seafood supply chain, falling production and decreased consumer demand are pushing up the price of fish and aquatic food.
Stakeholders are calling for steps to strengthen aquaculture for sustainable development and future food security.
This is because aquaculture also provides an important source of livelihoods for rural communities as well as creating job opportunities in related supporting sectors, such as input manufacture, construction, processing, and trade.
Globally, fish consumption is projected to increase by 30 million tonnes by 2030 as a result of population increases and improved living standards.
It is essential that this demand be met through the sustainable growth of aquaculture, which will contribute to the attainment of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets, such as zero hunger, poverty alleviation and conservation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources.
The President, African Chapter, World Aquaculture Society, Sherif Sadek, noted that the industry is facing difficult times because of the recent worldwide outbreak of the novel COVID-19, which has created so much chaos around the globe.
His words: “Our aquaculture sector is beginning to feel the impact. International travel and trade restrictions will potentially dent our progress. In early March, there were only two laboratories in Africa — one in Senegal and the other in South Africa — that had the reagents needed to test COVID-19 samples.
They have been working as referral labs for countries around the region. My thoughts and prayers are with those affected and to various nations in Africa and around the world who are battling relentlessly to contain the spread of this disease. I’m fully confident that we will continue to follow orderly steps that will fight to stop the spread of this virus.”
Other stakeholders are calling for tailored solutions’ to COVID-19 crisis. They are seeking measures to improve their situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a webinar organised by the West Africa Region of the global society, a Fellow of the Fisheries Society of Nigeria (FISON), Deaconess Foluke Areola, said there were projections that the economic fallout of the pandemic could plunge more than half one billion people into poverty, with communities in Sub-Sahara Africa, North Africa and the Middle East expected to suffer the most. Her words: “Many farmers have fish ready for sale which cannot be easily disposed of as planned.”
For fish farmers, she said stocking plans and harvesting projections were affected.
According to her, purchase and transportation of fish seeds were frustrated due to movement restrictions.
Transportation became a very big concern to fish farmers getting to their farms due to movement restrictions; purchase and movement of fish feeds, fish seeds for pre-programmed stocking of ponds became difficult, especially, for those who rely on the use of public transportation.”
A major issue, she pointed, out was on fish feeds. She observed: “The greater percentage of fish meal used in Nigeria is imported.”
To this end, she urged the stakeholders in the industry to begin local production of fish meals to meet demand. She added: “Nigeria is blessed with clupeids from inland fisheries and lantern fish from marine fisheries that the research institutions can be empowered to use in the production of fish feed meals -a major input in fish feed production.”
She called on stakeholders to ensure the recertification of Nigeria to export catfish to the United States and certification of aquaculture products to the European Union (EU).
She continued: “If fish products can be exported at this time. Those who cannot market their fish because of restriction in movement would have processed them for export. Other agricultural products are being exported from the country by air and sea even under the lockdown.”
According to her, COVID-19 has offered opportunities for emergency food supply, adding that getting the quantity and qualities of aquaculture products to be included in the food packages for a balanced diet is important to the industry. Fish producers are banking on government support to sustain the industry.
These include the Director, West Africa Region of the World Aquaculture Society, African Chapter Mr. Lanre Badmus.
An expert, Benjamin Bockarie, said there was the need for measures to sustain the industry to provide an important source of livelihoods for rural communities as well as creating job opportunities.