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Domestic seafood trade in focus as COVID-19 changes market dynamics

As predicted earlier in a report titled ‘Seafood industry post-COVID 19: An overhaul to trigger the growth of small fisheries’, one of the changes going ahead would be increased focus on domestic seafood trade, driven by falling exports and supported by small fishermen and Community-Supported Fisheries (CSFs).

COE-EDPCOE-EDP | Updated: 25-05-2020 04:28 IST | Created: 25-05-2020 04:28 IST
Domestic seafood trade in focus as COVID-19 changes market dynamics
Few high-income countries have taken initiatives to look inwards and tap into domestic seafood potential but its the developing countries that stand to benefit the most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to change their lifestyle and food habits, which is drastically changing the dynamics of the seafood industry that usually turns to restaurants to ensure their fresh catch reaches consumers. But as people prefer staying inside their homes, self-cooked meals are the new fine dining, and takeaways are new eating out.

Before the pandemic hit, the seafood industry was more globalized than ever, demonstrated by the fact that a popular fish found in Chinese waters can be easily found on menus of restaurants as far as the United States and Brazil. But the same focus on globalization became another problem for the industry as supply chains began collapsing and access to logistics became limited. Industry players are forced to change tactics as the world around us changes due to the fallout of this pandemic.

As predicted earlier in a report titled 'Seafood industry post-COVID 19: An overhaul to trigger the growth of small fisheries', one of the changes going ahead would be increased focus on domestic seafood trade, driven by falling exports and supported by small fishermen and Community-Supported Fisheries (CSFs). Domestic trade connections can help fishermen to reduce operating costs, access new markets, predict demand, and shorten supply chains that allow better decision making and increase profits. Consumers also benefit from consistent supply and knowing their seafood is sustainably fished and is fresh from the sea.

Initiatives taken

Governments are also realizing the potential benefits that domestic seafood trade can bring to value chains and few initiatives have already been taken to ensure the seafood industry can better serve consumers. Increased focus on domestic seafood trade can help spur investments in the industry and help reduce production costs by allowing businesses to increase scale and adopt latest technologies.

  • Domestic Seafood Supply Scheme (DSSS)

The British government has launched a new Domestic Seafood Supply Scheme (DSSS) to support projects that will help seafood businesses in the country to increase the supply of local seafood to domestic markets. The £1 million grant scheme is a part of £10 million fund announced for fishing and aquaculture sectors that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme is aimed to support the fishing and fish processing sector and will provide grant funding to businesses that are helping increase the consumption of locally-caught seafood.

  • 'Sea For Yourself'

Another initiative for the UK seafood industry, 'Sea For Yourself' is supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and Seafish. The consumer marketing campaign aims to increase local consumption of seafood caught in UK waters by introducing consumers to species not widely consumed in the country and are sometimes "overlooked".

The campaign will run until the end of May and showcase the importance of supporting the domestic seafood industry, the versatility, and ease of cooking at a time when home-cooked meals are becoming the norm.

  • Trump's Executive Order to promote American seafood

US seafood industry got a boost of confidence from the White House after President Trump issued an Executive Order aimed to support fishing and aquaculture in American waters. The directive to federal agencies, announced by the White House in early May would accelerate permits and environmental reviews for new aquaculture farms. It also instructs federally chartered regional fisheries councils to look for ways to cut bureaucratic red tape, which has long suppressed the growth of the domestic seafood industry in the country. The US is currently the largest importer of seafood and imports over 85 percent of the seafood consumed in the country.

The executive order designates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the lead agency for aquaculture projects located outside of the waters of any State or Territory, which extends 5 kilometers from shore. It instructs NOAA to navigate the project through the Federal environmental review and authorization process.

  • 'Eat Seafood, America!'

Convened by Seafood Nutrition Partnership and supported by a Seafood4health Action Coalition of 37 organizations, 'Eat Seafood, America' aims to "encourage Americans to eat seafood and buy seafood to support their personal health and for the economic health of the men and women working in our US seafood economy."

The focus of the campaign is to help people eat healthy while staying home and support the US seafood economy to ensure that the industry survives to serve customers after the pandemic.

'Eat Seafood, America' encourages people to buy seafood from purveyors, restaurants, mail-orders, and grocery stores, and post pictures on social media with relevant hashtags to increase engagement and reach of the campaign.

Growth of CSFs

Small suppliers and CSFs have long labored to build local seafood supply chains but the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic are giving them the boost they needed for introducing a broader shift towards reliance in the industry. CSFs emerged as a way for stakeholders to reduce operating costs, pay better wages, and assure consumers that they are getting high-quality food which is harvested sustainably.

Several such organizations like Dock to Dish in the north-east US and Skipper Otto in Canada are utilizing their shorter and less complex supply chains to try to turn the disruption into an opportunity by introducing feasible options like contactless deliveries and user-friendly online marketplaces.

The industry has some of the most complex and repressive supply chains geared at getting fish to export markets. Big businesses that control these supply chains often eat into the profits of small fishermen and producers while also overlooking environmental factors. But the rise of CSFs that provide a value proposition to customers can place individual fishermen back on the map while also benefiting consumers and the environment.


Increasing domestic consumption can be beneficial for countries but the path ahead is not easy. Governments must evaluate the long-term impacts of their initiatives as excessive barriers can even wipe out years of efforts to make seafood accessible and affordable through globalization.

  • Limited options

The globalization of the seafood industry has helped consumers access a wide range of specialties from different countries and oceans whereas domestic trade can only offer a limited number of options of species found in ecosystems across country waters.

  • Decrease in international trade

Seafood products form a significant portion of exports for many countries and a slump in international trade of these products could result in a trade deficit for these countries. The increase in the globalization of seafood has also made it a lucrative sector that can support foreign currency reserves.

  • Lack of competition

CSFs are designed to support small seafood businesses and could essentially reduce competition. Combine that with an increased focus on the domestic industry could drive multinational corporations away and negatively impact competition. Lack of competition in any sector can increase prices, stagnate innovation, and ultimately impact the consumer experience.

  • Delay in adoption of technological improvements

Globalization forces businesses to compete in the international environment and adopt latest technologies to make their processes more efficient. With the help of their international trading partners, domestic businesses can get more familiar with new technological developments and deploy them to enhance the consumer experience.

Potential for developing countries

One silver lining to this COVID-19 crisis is the renewed vigor for locally grown, sustainably raised food. Consumer behavior is being reshaped and stakeholders in high-income countries are already taking steps to meet the changing demand.

While most of the change has only been noticed in developed countries, for now, the transition is also expected to reach developing countries gradually as governments realize the importance of domestic seafood trade amid challenges posed by the ongoing crisis.

African countries like Cameroon and Nigeria which rely on imports without adequately exploiting their own resources are well-positioned to benefit from efforts to boost domestic seafood trade.

Fish is a preferred protein source for Cameroon and the national average fish consumption is estimated at 15.4 kg per person by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). However, domestic fish production is not able to meet the demand for fish in the country, leading the government to import a large quantity of fish products to complement the low national production.

Annual aquaculture potential of Cameroon is estimated at 20,000 tonnes but FAO says that fish farming is still poorly established and far from realizing its potential.

Nigeria is among the largest seafood importer in the world despite having a coastline of 853 kilometers bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Fish represents an important dietary element in the country and is also a major source of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people.

The country hasn't been able to adequately exploit its resources and realize the potential gains. Nigeria imports over $1 billion worth of seafood products annually and is a net importer of fishery products. The National Fish Association of Nigeria (NFAN) also acknowledged the potential in 2019 and called on the federal government to encourage local production and reduce imports arguing that it will ensure healthy fish consumption and increase job opportunities.

The bottom line

While most of the countries are still occupied with the fight against COVID-19, it is also important to analyze and act to address the shortcomings that this crisis has exposed. The pandemic has left fishermen without a market for their catch, exposing the gaps that exist in global supply chains of staple foods that are a preferred source of protein for millions of people. Few high-income countries have taken initiatives to look inwards and tap into domestic seafood potential but its the developing countries that stand to benefit the most by increasing consumption of locally-caught seafood and rechanneling billions of dollars spent on exports. Domestic trade can provide customers with healthy and sustainably-caught seafood while also increasing job opportunities and stimulating economic growth.

Centre of Excellence on Emerging Development Perspectives (COE-EDP) is an initiative of VisionRI and aims to keep track of the transition trajectory of global development and works towards conceptualization, development, and mainstreaming of innovative developmental approaches, frameworks, and practices.

  • Devdiscourse



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