Marine life rebounded during the world wars. The same is happening now

During both world wars, the global demand for fish and seafood plummeted, forcing fishing fleets to stay at the docks while fish stocks rebounded. Now it seems a similar effect is coming into play as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The closure of restaurants and hotels, the main buyers of fish and seafood, together with the difficulties of maintaining social distancing among crews at sea have caused hundreds of fishing vessels to be tied up at ports around the world. Demand and prices have collapsed in Asia, home to some of the world’s largest seafood and fish markets. In Spain, which has the largest fleet in the European Union, half of the ships are staying in port.

The marine environment can only benefit from the reduced pressure on stocks, however. While evidence of a recovery in marine life is still anecdotal, increases in the presence of mammals such as killer whales, dolphins and seals have been recorded in areas where they hadn’t been seen in decades—mainly because noise and activity on the water have diminished. Looking to the past, scientists witnessed spectacular recoveries of marine life after both world wars stopped commercial fishing in its tracks. With boats tied up, it seems the same is happening now.

The lockdowns are likely to favor the recovery of species in the Mediterranean, which breed between March and May, and in the Atlantic, which breed between April and June. The impact will be seen within one or two years, though it will probably be less dramatic than the recovery after the world wars, which halted fishing for three to five years depending on the region, said Carlos Duarte, a research chair at the Red Sea Research Center in Saudi Arabia. 

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Marine life rebounded during the world wars. The same is happening now

During both world wars, the global demand for fish and seafood plummeted, forcing fishing fleets to stay at the docks while fish stocks rebounded. Now it seems a similar effect is coming into play as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The closure of restaurants and hotels, the main buyers of fish and seafood, together with the difficulties of maintaining social distancing among crews at sea have caused hundreds of fishing vessels to be tied up at ports around the world. Demand and prices have collapsed in Asia, home to some of the world’s largest seafood and fish markets. In Spain, which has the largest fleet in the European Union, half of the ships are staying in port.

The marine environment can only benefit from the reduced pressure on stocks, however. While evidence of a recovery in marine life is still anecdotal, increases in the presence of mammals such as killer whales, dolphins and seals have been recorded in areas where they hadn’t been seen in decades—mainly because noise and activity on the water have diminished. Looking to the past, scientists witnessed spectacular recoveries of marine life after both world wars stopped commercial fishing in its tracks. With boats tied up, it seems the same is happening now.

The lockdowns are likely to favor the recovery of species in the Mediterranean, which breed between March and May, and in the Atlantic, which breed between April and June. The impact will be seen within one or two years, though it will probably be less dramatic than the recovery after the world wars, which halted fishing for three to five years depending on the region, said Carlos Duarte, a research chair at the Red Sea Research Center in Saudi Arabia. 

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