Why seafood shouldn't be blamed for the spread of COVID-19

27 April 2020, at 4:03pm

SARS-CoV-2 cannot infect aquatic food animals, meaning that these do not play a direct role in spreading COVID-19 to humans.

So emphasises a new peer-reviewed paper, which was published in Asian Fisheries Science last week, in response to some of the rumours that have circulated about the disease.

Tuna in a fish market in Japan
The authors of the paper, including representatives of FAO, want to allay misplaced fears about the link between seafood consumption and the spread of COVID-19

The paper was written by a group of eminent aquatic animal health, aquaculture, fisheries, food safety and veterinary specialists from organisations including the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

They explain that they felt compelled to compile it following earlier reports which indicated that COVID-19 originated from a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China - reports that seem to have put some consumers off seafood.

"Decreased consumption of aquatic food animals has been reported in some countries, in part due to misconceptions regarding the risk of viral transmission," they explain.

As a result of these "misconceptions" they issued the paper as a "clear communication regarding the risk of transmission of the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 in humans and the general societal concern of potential contamination of aquatic animals used as food or their products with the virus.”

The authors note that SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the family Coronaviridae and genus Betacoronavirus – which have only been reported to infect mammals. As a result, they point out that aquatic animals – including farmed finfish and shellfish – are still a safe choice for consumers.

“Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can infect aquatic food animals (eg finfish, crustaceans, molluscs, amphibians) and therefore these animals do not play an epidemiological role in spreading COVID-19 to humans. Aquatic food animals and their products, like any other surface, may potentially become contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, especially when handled by people who are infected with the virus. Nevertheless, with proper food handling and sanitation, the likelihood of contamination of aquatic animals or their products with SARS-CoV-2 should be negligible,” the authors explain.

They also note that the pandemic is likely to lead to a greater consumption of aquatic animals locally, which should help aquaculturists and wild-capture fishers to retain their livelihoods during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic may indirectly affect livelihoods, food security and nutrition for populations that rely on aquatic animals as a source of food or income. However, COVID-19 outbreaks may also lead to an increase in local community consumption and/or utilisation of aquatic food animals or their products due to limited transportation and trade away from the fishing and harvesting communities or limited supplies of alternative sources of animal proteins,” they add.

Further information

The full paper, which was published in the journal of the Asian Fisheries Society, under the title ‘Viewpoint: SARS-CoV-2 (The Cause of COVID-19 in Humans) is Not Known to Infect Aquatic Food Animals nor Contaminate Their Products’ can be accessed here.

Senior editor at The Fish Site

Rob Fletcher has been writing about aquaculture since 2007, as editor of Fish Farmer, Fish Farming Expert and The Fish Site. He has an MA in history from the University of Edinburgh and an MSc in sustainable aquaculture from the University of St Andrews. He currently lives and works in Scotland.

More from this author