Implications of COVID-19 on small-scale fishers

Dear Editor,
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected most small-scale fisheries that supply the majority of fish destined for direct human consumption in Guyana. With quarantines and social distancing rules in effect, boats from many small-scale fisheries are not catching their usual take because of market disruptions and other factors, which is putting some communities dependent on the industry for food security, livelihoods at greater risk with rapid extensive social and economic effects. These specifically are the implications of the pandemic for small-scale fishers, including marketing and processing aspects of the sector, and coastal fishing communities, the negative consequences to date have included complete shut-downs of some fisheries, knock-on economic effects from market disruptions, increased health risks for fishers, processors and communities.
Despite the negative impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on many small-scale fisheries, some have risen to the challenge and remained committed to feeding the communities where they operate, keeping their local economies afloat and providing food to the most vulnerable households. These local networks and operations have provided a direct opportunity for household consumers to access fish protein outside of larger supply chains that have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, such as to hotels and restaurants.
Three out of seven people rely on fish as their main source of protein —Yet, the role of fisheries in Guyana’s food security is undervalued. Increased support could help the struggling small-scale fisheries remain operational, encouraging sustainability and the health of the people relying on them, despite the PPP/C Government’s positive initiatives that provide opportunities upon which to build. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic is a long way from over and these anecdotes from around the communities do not paint the full picture of what is currently happening or the longer-term effects in the months and years ahead. While our understanding of the implications of the pandemic is still incomplete, there is an urgent need to coordinate, plan and implement effective short- and long-term responses to this unfolding crisis. The foundation for this is already present in existing and new efforts by our Minister of Agriculture.
It is my belief that we must mobilise financial resources for food and employment security for fishing communities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We must explore opportunities to increase resilience of small-scale fisheries supply chains, such as refrigeration and processing capacity, and strengthening local markets connecting fishers directly to household. We must allow flexibility with already allocated funds, or by re-orienting future funding opportunities to prioritise small-scale fisheries’ work.
We must elevate the importance of coastal fisheries for Guyana’s food, livelihood security and marine conservation, so that these communities receive the support and attention they deserve during the pandemic and into the future. We can no longer afford to overlook the significance of this sector.
While the COVID-19 pandemic presents major challenges for the fisheries sector in Guyana and while there are some positive initiatives and outcomes, these are likely far outweighed by the negative consequences, especially for groups that are most vulnerable to these changes. Furthermore, the crisis is far from over. The short-term impacts that we have experienced now are likely to be followed by long-term crises related to economic hardships. The fisheries sector plays a vital role in food and livelihood security. Thus, I emphasise the need for rapid mobilisation by all stakeholders in support of the fisheries sector. Short-term responses must be swift and targeted to the most vulnerable. In the longer-term, there is a need to develop a coordinated response and support network to transform existing institutions, supply chains, and food systems in ways that improve conditions and resilience of the fisheries sector.
Our PPP/C Government remains committed to Guyana’s coastal community fisheries programmes and engaged these communities with works that support the wellbeing of people and their livelihoods.

David Adams