Surging international demand for the Peruvian anchovy and its many derivatives has led to record prices for the goods. However, claims of overfishing and overexploited reserves have led the Ministry of Production to establish the lowest quota ever for its commercial fleet for the most recent season. Meanwhile, efforts to increase direct human consumption within the country continue to claim an even larger portion of the catch.
Peru is by far the world’s biggest exporter of fishmeal, the primary associated product of the Peruvian anchovy. Fishmeal has traditionally been used as feed for the massive fish farms in a number of countries throughout the globe, including the US, China and Norway. However, surging corn prices due to the drought in the US has meant that even some livestock farms are turning to fishmeal as a cheaper alternative, further raising demand and causing the price of fishmeal to increase by as much as 60% between December 2011 and December 2012.
Increases in demand for the anchovy have also been witnessed due to the growing fish oil market, largely a result of the global health craze for Omega-3 fish oil supplements, which are said to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Direct human consumption now makes up 14% of global fish oil production, compared to the 2-3% recorded in 2007.
This growing demand for the anchovy has strained the country’s resources, causing anchovy stocks to fall to 5m tonnes, the lowest level in five years, in late 2012. While some called for a one-year ban to allow the populations sufficient time to replenish themselves, officials instead set one of the lowest quotas ever for the commercial industry at 810,000 tonnes for the season, which closed at the end of January 2013, approximately 68% lower than the level set for the same season the previous year.
Some claim that the fall in stocks is a result of a number of weather phenomena that took place during 2012, including higher-than-normal water temperatures along the coast, caused by a number of storm systems that have wreaked havoc on the Peruvian coast. However, others claim that a lack of government oversight, overfishing by both commercial and artisanal fleets, lax enforcement and cheating on quotas and fines have all played their part in depleting national stocks.
In an effort to exert more control over the industry and to prevent overfishing, in 2008 the Peruvian government established boat-by-boat quotas for commercial fishing operations. However, with boats weighing less than 32 tonnes exempted from the quotas and the country’s 2000 km of coast relatively unpoliced by the government, the size of the “non-commercial”, or so-called artisanal fleet, grew rapidly, supported by high international prices for the industry’s products. Due to the artisanal fishing segment being largely unregulated, many in the industry claim that it is these ships that are depleting the coast of the anchovy.
Due to the fish’s value in the food chain along the Peruvian coast, which is one of the most diverse fishing areas in the world, its dwindling numbers has undercut the haul of other species of fish as they have fewer anchovies to eat themselves. This, combined with increased demand from an increasingly affluent population, has resulted in the average price of fish increasing four times faster than that of other food.
This threatens to undermine one of the Peruvian government’s main objectives, which is to increase direct human consumption of fish to combat stubbornly high malnutrition rates in the rural interior. However, it is also putting increasing pricing pressure on one of the traditionally affordable food sources that the people have enjoyed for many generations.
In September 2012, the government declared that all boats over 32 tonnes were forbidden from fishing within 16 km of the coast, where most of the anchovy spawn, with all production from within that 16-km zone to be directed toward human consumption. However, with international demand and prices for anchovy derivatives as high as they are, industry insiders claim that much of the catch from within that limit is instead directed to illegal fishmeal factories, from where it is then exported.
Despite these challenges, the industry is hoping that current efforts to control the haul of the anchovy, a fish that reproduces quite rapidly, will lead to a replenished stock and higher quotas in the future. While the fishing sector aspires to meet growing international demand for its fisheries products, this must be matched by commitments to sustainability and food security to ensure the continued economic benefits of the Peruvian coast.