Low anchoveta harvest “no problem,” say fishing companies
The 2017 anchoveta season in Peru posted alarmingly low catch rates, with harvesters hitting only 46 percent of their annual quota. But senior executives in the industry said they aren’t worried and have weathered similar poor seasons in the past.
Elena Conterno, chair of the board of Peru's National Fisheries Society, told SeafoodSource the down season was attributable to high numbers of juvenile fish present in the fishery when the season opened on 23 November. She said when the season ended on 26 January, Peru had achieved a harvest of 690,000 metric tons (MT) – a figure far below the 1.49 million MT quota.
“When the season started, adults were not available for fishing. We had to stop until conditions improved, which took place by the end of December,” Contorno said. “We restarted fishing early in January, and then we only had some days available, as usually a reproductive peak takes place in February.”
Peru’s anchoveta fisheries provide a large part of the fishmeal used worldwide in aquaculture production and a drop in capture has a direct impact on the cost of fishmeal and aquaculture products. It also affects the national economy, as Peru typically earns about USD 1.8 billion (EUR 1.5 billion) annually from anchoveta.
Conterno told SeafoodSource that the Ministry of Production has implemented a program for fishing vessels to "report zones with high incidence of juveniles, so as to quickly close those areas to fishing.”
“That routine is currently in place, and the industry collaborates reporting immediately when it detects zones with high incidence of juveniles,” she said.
The ministry ordered the closure of 30 fishing zones during the season, when the rate of juvenile catches had exceeded the maximum permitted limit.
Despite the low catch rate, Conterno said Peru expected to maintain its share of the anchoveta fishmeal market that it has held over the past few years. Currently, the South American country holds around 16 percent of the global market for fishmeal.
The positive side of the low harvest is that “in the long-term, anchovy sustainability has been assured...official statistics show that there is stability in biomass. This is due to preventive management that guarantees sustainability,” she said.
In a 2017 report, the World Bank said the anchovy fishery in Peru was previously threatened by “rampant overfishing and by recurring changes in ocean currents from climatic events like El Nino,” but that better fisheries management had increased its sustainability.
“Because the anchoveta is a resource that lives in an ecosystem of high climatic variability and is affected by changes in sea temperature, the size of the population and how much can be sustainably caught fluctuates widely from year to year. The stock therefore requires constant monitoring,” the report said. “Growing cooperation between private fisheries and IMARPE, Peru’s maritime research institute, is helping gather real-time information on the state of the stock and climatic conditions.”
Starting in 2009, the World Bank worked with Peru to establish sustainable management of the anchoveta fishery, which “meant adopting a rights-based approach based on quotas set by a scientific body, assigned to individual companies.”
Manuel Salazar, the general manager of Pesquera Diamante, the third-largest fishing company in Peru with annual sales of USD 200 million (EUR162.7 million) and 1,500 employees, told SeafoodSource in an email that the sustainability of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery is “guaranteed.”
“Peru has handled the anchovy fishery in a very serious way,” Salazar said. “This is not the claim of Peruvians, but is said by the FAO and many foreign institutions and universities.”
The 46 percent catch of the season's quota will affect his company's revenue projections because “the quota caught was one half of our expectations,” Salazar said.
However, “having less than the quota is part of our industry and part of our inherent risks, it is something that has happened in the past, and will for sure happen in the future."
He pointed out that Pesquera Diamante has been in the anchoveta business for more than 30 years and would do what it always does when the anchoveta fishery fails to live up to expectations.
"We limit capex and stop expansionary investments for six months until recovery,” Salazar said.
He said that it was his understanding that other companies in the industry took similar measures.
At the same time, the 60 companies that belong to the National Fisheries Society "are working [with the Ministry of Production] in implementing the Fishery Improvement Project and also in improving management so as to better incorporate climate changes in the fishery management, to ensure sustainability and at the same time the production, employment, and exports that this activity generates," Conterno said.
For 2018, the news on catches appears to be improving, with Peruvian Minister of Production Lieneke Schol indicating on 6 March that the fishing sector will grow by 38 percent in volume, mainly due to greater anchovy yields.
"The performance of the sector during January and February shows that 2018 would be better than the previous one, as long as the oceanographic conditions remain favorable for the next two fishing seasons," she said.