Peru anchoveta players allege incompetence at fishing regulatory agency

Published on
August 23, 2023

Concern, confusion, and anger have riven the Peruvian anchovy industry this summer, as a canceled fishing season – followed by ambiguity about a restart – have left professionals up and down the supply chain wondering what will come next.

The saga began in May, when Peru’s Production Ministry (PRODUCE) delayed the main anchovy fishing season in Peru’s north-central zone – the country’s most important in terms of anchovy capture – due to a high presence of juveniles resulting from the effects of El Niño. That delay caused consternation among industrial fishing fleets that are responsible for the fishery’s production.

Based on the results of exploratory fishing excursions in May, PRODUCE authorized another expedition on 3 June to study the distribution and sizes of the anchovy biomass. At the time, it established a preliminary total allowable catch (TAC) of 1.09 million metric tons (MT) – well below half of traditional TAC levels and almost 2 million MT lower than the previous season.

Then, PRODUCE canceled the season altogether on 8 June, but reversed course yet again in early August to partially open the zone for 10 days to conduct another round of exploratory fishing. Complicating the matter even further, PRODUCE called for the new round of exploratory fishing excursions on 2 August at 9 p.m., making the call for the 10-day process to begin at midnight and run from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m on subsequent days.

“[PRODUCE] knows nothing about fisheries! I am very sorry … to express the enormous frustration and uneasiness generated in seeing our authorities make such bad, inopportune decisions, demonstrating zero knowledge,” Pablo Trapunsky, the CEO of Peruvian anchoveta fishing and processing firm Pesquera Diamante, said in a post on his LinkedIn profile.

The country’s anchovy fishery, which targets both Engraulis ringens and Anchoa nasus species of anchovy, is the world's largest fishery by volume and is a primary source of much of the world’s fishmeal and fish oil.

According to Eduardo Ferreyros, president of Peru's National Fisheries Society (SNP), the industrial fishing sector contracted 68.9 percent during the first half of the year due to the cancelation of the first anchovy fishing season.

Catch totals in the first anchovy fishing season over the last five years have averaged 2.48 million MT annually, but this year has resulted in a 223,000 MT catch total from the two exploratory excursions, he said.

“In other words, only 9 percent of anchovies have been caught compared to what would have been caught in the season,” Ferreyros said. “If we take into account that in one fishing season around USD 1 billion [EUR 922 million]  in exports of fishmeal and fish oil are generated, the results in the coming months will reflect an even greater drop.”

“We are lost in a sea of ignorance!" Trapunsky said.

PRODUCE's constant fluctuations that have directly affected his company and practically every other player in the sector, he said in the same social media post.

"A few days ago, a resolution was issued for exploratory anchovy fishing in the southern zone [Peru’s other fishing region], which began today, and vessels had already set sail there to evaluate the situation. This resolution [to open exploratory fishing] in the center north led all ships to turn around and return to the north, so the exploration in the south will be a resounding failure; we will not be able to know whether there are conditions [for sustainable fishing]," Trapunsky wrote. "The logistics behind this decision are enormous. We have to rush to make vessels and plants operational and all for 10 days, at whatever cost, without knowing whether or not after that period we can continue fishing. In other words, [this means] costs overrun in times without income, which will only increase our debt. It takes at least three days to prepare everything.

Trapunsky said PRODUCE's rapid-fire changes in direction have ... 

Photo courtesy of PRODUCE

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