May 20, 2020 / 8:47 PM / 14 days ago

Brazil fisheries plea for government aid amid coronavirus pandemic

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian fish processors are asking the government for tax breaks, subsidized credit and emergency loan guarantees, saying they need “oxygen” as the coronavirus crisis dents demand and leaves a sector employing 1 million Brazilians struggling badly.

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes told sector representatives in a meeting that government aid measures will be announced this week, according to Eduardo Lobo, president of industry group Abipesca, who participated in the meeting.

After restaurants closed and people began to shelter at home to slow the spread of coronavirus, fish sales fell 50% in Brazil and boats in the country’s northeast have nowhere to sell their catch, Abipesca and boat owners said.

“Brazil’s response to defend the sector has lagged, while competing fishing nations are protected,” Lobo said.

With relatively low fish production despite its about 7,500-km (4,600-mile) coastline, Brazil is regarded as a sleeping seafood giant.

Brazil only produces 1.3 million tonnes of fish per year, with 700,000 tonnes coming from capture fisheries and 600,000 tonnes from aquaculture fisheries, according to data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

The country’s fish exports totaled $300 million and imports were $1.1 billion in 2019, FAO says.

Gabriel de Araujo, president of a fishermen’s union, told Reuters after the pandemic hit, boats in the northeast have stopped fishing in deep waters because there is no market for specialty tuna.

Cancellation of flights to the United States severely constrained exports, he said.

Northeastern boats catch about 26,000 tonnes of big-eye and yellowfin tuna every year, with much of that going to Sao Paulo and U.S. sushi restaurants, Araujo said.

Thiago De Luca, director at family-owned fish processor Frescatto, said without government help, there will be more pain and inevitable job cuts.

“This crisis is different from the other crises,” De Luca said.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Alistair Bell

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