Food systems were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the containment measures related to the movement of people and goods. In fisheries and aquaculture, the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 are manifold, including changes in consumer demand, decreases in fresh fish prices and the cessation of fishing operations.
Many individuals working in the sector operate in the informal market with no social insurance; they are not registered in mandatory social security schemes, paid less than the legal minimum wage, without a written contract, or are self-employed. These individuals — including small-scale fishers, migrant, fish workers, ethnic minorities, crew members, harvesters, gleaners and vendors — were the most affected by the pandemic, notably women (FAO, 2020a; 2020b).
Social protection (SP) has been a key response adopted by governments to alleviate the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions for fishery-dependent communities (FAO, 2020c).
Countries with consolidated social protection systems in place were those most able to respond rapidly to the impacts of COVID-19 by tweaking existing social protection programmes.
The main category of social protection measures taken up by governments to alleviate income losses in fisheries and aquaculture was temporary cash and in-kind transfers. The second most used measure was input subsidies (e.g. fuel).
Social protection measures have helped to support many households, even though some workers and their families in the informal sector missed out (OECD, 2020b). Informal fishers and aquaculture workers may remain beyond the scope of these measures as the crisis has exposed existing gaps in social protection provisions that cannot be filled through short-term compensations alone. Response measures should foster the expansion of social protection coverage to build comprehensive and inclusive national social protection systems.
Access to social protection is a fundamental human right and is critical for reducing poverty and stimulating economic activity. Governments are recommended to ensure that recovery and economic stimulus packages target the most vulnerable in the sector and their specific needs. This will build the basis for facilitating their transition to the formal economy, address barriers to access to services and programmes and minimize negative coping strategies such as child labour or increased pressure on natural resources while protecting households’ food and nutrition security.