Over the centuries, there have been records of the strong depletions and extensive exploitation that the aquatic ecosystem has undergone. Many Marine biologists had previously vouched for a global halt on extensive fishing and allow the aquatic population to grow back which has not been addressed yet. Now that the World is at halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many scholars have come forth with the evidences of the positive impact this pandemic lockdown has had on fishes and the fisheries on the later stage. On one hand, the aquatic recovery during the lockdown became the talk of the town while on the other, there were scholars who projected that this small fishing pause will not have any long lasting impact on the aquatic population as once the world reopens the main driver of the over exploitation i.e., the human demand of fishes for its consumption would still be there.
The chamber of horrors the world found itself in due to the Covid-19 Pandemic triggered a health crisis across the globe. Considering the potential threat Covid-19 possessed, putting the world on halt was seen as the best and a necessary option to break the speedy spread chain. With each passing day the pandemic turned messier and people suffered as the world remained on halt. While the First world was busy claiming that they have sophisticated technologies, economic strength and better healthcare infrastructure, the Covid-19 pandemic swept “throughout the globe with high mortality, grounding most of the global population, bringing the healthcare systems of the world’s developed countries to a breaking point, and shattered our views of normality and peaceful life”1. There is no doubt that collectively a deadly virus with not so strong health infrastructure created a great chaos at global level and people were in panic. However, looking beyond the misery Covid-19 has put us into; the pandemic seems to have a proverbial silver lining for “Nature Earth”. Evidence suggests it is as if Nature has hit some reboot button to heal itself from anthropogenic activities. “There have been many speculations among researchers in the sphere of environmental sciences that the earth is gradually recovering from degradation and air pollution; mainly from the release of greenhouse gases”2. One of such speculations that have been the talk of the town lately is the recovery of aquatic ecosystems from centuries of overfishing. It has been widely accepted that anthropogenic activities have impacted the aquatic ecosystem for centuries now. The past catastrophes illustrate that overfishing precedes all other pervasive human disturbances in terms of overexploiting the aquatic environment including pollution, degradation of water quality, climate change3. According to the annual FAO figures published in 2012, “almost 30% of the formally assessed commercial fish stocks were overexploited; about 57% are fully exploited while only 13% are non-fully exploited”4 and it’s been observed that fishing fleets after spending hours in the ocean returned with less catches while the seafood intake increased each passing year across the world. Last year, when the world was at home, it led to a reduction and in specific cases the collapse of demand and the market availability of fresh seafood products, due to which the changes in aquaculture came into limelight. Hence, at this crossroad an important question relates to whether our war with the deadly covid-19 pandemic has created a window for the fishing landscape to recover from decades of overfishing process?
THE CUSTOM OF RECOVERY?
Prior to this, a discussion is must on how common “the recovery” is among the overexploited populations and degraded ecosystems and how long does it take and with what magnitude? The past decade has seen a significant effort in understanding the process of recovery in aquatic landscape however, only a few could summarize it and there is still much to discover along with the lessons learnt. It will not be wrong to say that given the magnitude of threats aquatic population possess, the recovery process of long-lived and complex ecosystems might take decades or centuries as higher the depletion the lower the recovery5. Many studies show that the aquatic recovery is possible if the efforts are collectively made to reduce the cumulative human impacts, protect the population with favorable ecological and environmental conditions, raise public and political awareness and enforce long-term aquatic management plans. Another way would be by “identifying historical reference points and carrying capacity for individual populations and ecosystems for setting the conservation and management targets”6. Many scholars have projected that there seems to be a knowledge gap in how and what changes in the ecosystems over the time have altered the baselines which further affects the recovery prospects. In addition to this, it is not only the responsibility of conservation and management set ups to work on the recovery prospects. An individual and the society as a whole is also fully responsible and have great power to influence the depletion as well as the recovery of the aquatic population. “Research on the effects of shifts in awareness, cultural values, consumer demand and economic forces could greatly contribute to making aquatic recoveries a more common success story”7.
THE AQUATIC RECOVERY
To say that this involuntary halt of overfishing will have a positive impact on the fish stocks would be truism. Many scholars are of the belief that “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 and more sustainable way to manage the oceans in the post covid-19 era”8. This unintended halt on fishing takes many marine biologists back to the post World War I and World War II era which has a record of spectacular aquatic recovery. The same was expected from the Covid-19 lockdown, said Carlos Duarte, a research chair at the Red Sea Research Center in Saudi Arabia. While talking on the above mentioned topic Duarte stated that evidences suggest that “Increases in the presence of mammals such as Killer whales, Dolphins and Seals have been recorded in areas they hadn’t been seen in decades”9. In another report from Brazil, the Turtles were seen nesting in the abandoned beaches during lockdown. Rainer Froese, a Senior Scientist at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, projected that “Most European fish stocks such as Whitefish, Flatfish, and Herring will nearly double their biomass within one year of no fishing. So, reduction in catch caused by corona virus will lead to an increase in fish biomass”10. He also mentioned that this could actually help in recovering 40 percent of the stocks which were being overfished prior to the pandemic.
On contrary, there have been few scholars who think otherwise. As stated by them, “this little pause” in the fishing activity would not have a long lasting impact as it does not eradicate the main driver of overfishing i.e., the vast intake of seafood by the human population. Bradley Soule, the chief analyst for the non-profit Ocean Mind, hence calls this slowdown and “bump” and not a paving way toward recovery. “Recovery of diversity and fish numbers is a slow process and the experience in marine protected areas shows a full recovery can take as much as two decades”11 claimed by Nick Graham, a professor at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. However, a slowdown of at least a year might lead the fishes to go through their spawning cycles and might give a chance to the population to flourish.
The take-home lesson from the aforementioned information is that the major threat on fish is fishing (overfishing to be specific). Where people seem to be living in extreme numbers there tends to be more fishing pressure to meet the large demand of the human population. The easiest way to let the aquatic population survive and recover is to less fish the reefs. Although, it is highly impossible that a temporary and involuntary slowdown would actually alter the given behavior of a specified industry however, it might help us with the glimpse of “what could be and a moment’s pause to consider what’s ahead”12. Hence, it can be said that as of April 2020, when the world was put on halt, the signs of aquatic recovery remain mostly anecdotal.13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20