But some consumers might see bargains and marine life could recover if crisis goes on.
The coronavirus outbreak has hit British fishers with a “very severe shock” as demand from export markets and the domestic restaurant trade has dried up.
The UK exports about 70% of its catch to Europe and Asia but imports most of what British consumers eat. Fishing leaders said catches of normally expensive seafood such as Dover sole and lobster may now end up in fishmongers at bargain prices.
The crews running the 2,500 boats that fish in inshore waters are self-employed, making them especially vulnerable, and they support five times as many jobs onshore. While no one wants the shutdown to continue, scientists said a pause in fishing could result in a recovery of marine life numbers.
“It may be a temporary crisis but it is a very severe shock,” said Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. He said China has become a big market for UK crab in recent years. “Some parts of the fleet have become very dependent on that, and that was the first to go, with a very dramatic fall in demand.”
“You have these prime species that tend to go across to the continent, like Dover sole, lobster and crab, high value species that also go to the [UK] restaurant trade,” he said. “For [British] people who find Dover sole too expensive at the fishmonger, this would be a good time to try it. There will be bargains. I’m not saying the scale of it would be a substitute for what is exported, but we are looking for silver linings here.”