Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted commercial fishing activities in the Northeastern U.S. and Mid-Atlantic, according to a new study.
Though many fishers suffered a decline in income, survey results -- published Thursday in the journal PLOS One -- suggest many were able to adapt and continue fishing through the market disruptions triggered by the pandemic.
With indoor dining services restricted across much of the country, restaurants have been especially hard hit by the pandemic's economic consequences. When restaurants falter, those that supply them suffer, too.
Between March and June, researchers at Rutgers University surveyed commercial fishers from Maine through North Carolina to find out how those who make their living on the water were coping as demand for fine dining dried up.
As many as two-fifths of the respondents temporarily stopped fishing as a result of the pandemic, according to the survey results.
Researchers also looked at data on fish landings and found squid and scallop hauls were down from last year. However, the data showed fishers were bringing in more black sea bass and haddock than in previous years -- species that are, perhaps, a bit easier to prepare at home.
"They may have kept fishing to pay their bills or crew, or to maintain their livelihoods or their quotas until markets rebound," lead study author Lindley Smith, a fisheries social scientist and postdoctoral researcher at Rutgers University, said in a news release. "Most of the fishermen who stopped fishing during the early months of the pandemic planned to resume fishing instead of leaving the industry."
Prior to the pandemic, data suggested as much as 70 percent of seafood consumption happened inside restaurants. During the spring and summer, as the COVID-19 spread across the East Coast, stay-at-home orders depressed demand. Data showed demand remained depressed even after stay-at-home orders were lifted and economies began to reopen.
Survey respondents reported a variety of strategies to adapt, including selling their catch directly to consumers. Some commercial fishers joined residential delivery programs and community-supported fishery programs. Many fishers also targeted different species, those preferred by the home cook.
"While we found that many fishermen kept fishing in the short-term, it will be necessary to study the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on the industry to understand whether this trend will continue," Smith said.
Though the adaptations detailed in the new study helped keep many fishers on the water, the survey results showed most still suffered significant drops in income, as a result of depressed demand and seafood prices.
Researchers suspect that the loss of fishers has not been the gain of commercial fish stocks, but scientists hope their work will help policy makers and fisheries managers develop new strategies for managing both fish stocks and commercial fishers during periods of severe economic disruption.
"The pandemic is just the latest threat for a sector coping with climatic pressures, overfishing, the legacies of oil spills and extreme events, and fishery management policies," said co-author Victoria Ramenzoni, an assistant professor of human ecology at Rutgers. "It is important to isolate these responses to identify the true cost of adaptation."