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Lockdown Helps Remarkable Recovery of Fish Stocks in Greek Seas

Fishing boat off the coast of Naxos. Source: Kritzolina/Wikimedia commons

Greek scientists say that the fish population in the Aegean and Ionian Seas has shown a remarkable recovery perhaps not seen for a quarter of a century, due to the coronavirus lockdown and the restrictions imposed on fishing.

Although the exact increase in fish recovery will not be known until 2021 and beyond, the first scientific indications point to a recovery of the Greek seabed and marine life.

Thanasis Tsikliras, Associate Professor of the Department of Biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, told recently, that fishing was severely curtailed in the last quarter.

“It may have dropped by 60-70 percent in the last three months and in some areas it may have even reached 100 percent.”

A global slowdown of the commercial fishing industry is bad news for anyone who makes their livelihood from the sea, and fishermen will no doubt suffer. However, for the world’s beleaguered fish populations—and the scientists trying to revive them—this unplanned fishing pause presents a research opportunity, one that could demonstrate a better, more sustainable way to manage the oceans in the post-COVID-19 era.

“Although we are not in a position yet to estimate numbers, fish stocks have a chance to recover. We believe that this will greatly benefit the eco-system,” Tsikliras added.

He also pointed out that the quarantine period also coincided with the breeding season of many species of fish, further helping to rehabilitate the marine population.

Restrictions due to the pandemic have also reduced the demand for fish consumption worldwide, while tourism in Greece has dropped dramatically.

“At such a time, our country would host a million tourists, many of whom would enjoy fish appetizers in one of the Greek taverns. Their absence helped increase fish stocks, as did the fact that restaurants were closed throughout Lent, where we usually eat fish. But the restriction of travel has also reduced the purchase of fish by consumers in the fish markets,” Tsikliras said.

“The demand for fresh fish as well as the selling prices have collapsed,” the Mediterranean Advisory Council, a European NGO that advises on fisheries, announced in a March 23 report. Even where there is demand, such as for canned tuna in the U.S., travel constrains on crews, supplies and equipment keep the boats in the dock.

Past catastrophes illustrate what occurs when fishing is suddenly impossible. During WWII, many European and North American fishing boats were pressed into military service as supply or patrol vessels. For the rest, mines and submarine attacks often made it too dangerous to venture out.

“The war brought temporary reprieve for ocean life and allowed commercial stocks of cod, haddock and plaice to replenish after heavy fishing pressures during the interwar period,” says a 2012 paper in Environment and Society. In Europe, catch records for some fish dropped 60 to 80 percent.

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