Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains
©FAO/Omar Penarubia

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains

Ansen Ward, 3 April 2020

It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting fish supply and trade. Some major fish producing, consuming and trading nations have already been impacted: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, U.K., U.S. and Vietnam. But what are the implications when it comes to loss and waste

Supply chain disruption because of changing consumer demand or market access and logistics problems related to transportation and border restrictions, will have upstream implications. There is already evidence of a reduction in fishing efforts in parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. This will have a damaging effect on fishers’ livelihoods, as well as food security and nutrition for populations that rely heavily on fish for animal protein and essential micronutrients.  It will, however, result in less bycatch and discards, and therefore reduce the amount of waste produced (e.g. by trawl fisheries). But what impacts can be expected on the fish already in supply chains? 

Fish and products, which are unable to reach market will be held in chill, cold or live storage. This may belong to a processor, trader, exporter or importer. Fish and fish products do not have an infinite storage life, especially chilled products. So there is a greater risk of quality deterioration, leading to loss in value, decreased nutrient retention, and in extreme cases loss of product completely. Furthermore, prolonged storage will also incur increased operating costs, adding to the challenges faced in distribution. 

One strategy will be to find alternative markets, and perhaps develop new supply chains. With the closure of many food service establishments, might direct marketing to end consumers prove to be a viable opportunity?   

Further downstream in the supply chain, there may be cause for optimism. In response to COVID-19, some countries have seen an increase in the storage of frozen products by end consumers. A combination of greater awareness of the benefits of frozen fish (long storage life). of home freezing and an increase in household freezing capacity will most likely result in less fish waste.   

The overall impact of COVID-19 on loss and waste in fisheries value chains remains to be seen.   But already, impacts can been noted at different supply chain stages. These may lead to temporary or long term changes in supply chains and consumer behavior which have implications for fish loss and waste.