Fishermen in Peru are facing choppy waters as supplies of anchovy, the industry’s prime catalyst, have fallen to one of the lowest levels in the last 20 years. In 2012 more than $2bn in export revenues – 66% of the sector total – was generated by anchovy-based fishmeal, oil and omega-3 supplements, commanding high prices on the international market.

Producing around 40% of world supply, Peru is the leading global exporter of fishmeal. This is predominantly sold to China, where it is used for animal feed, while oil and omega-3 are in high demand by the European food industry. According to the World Bank, the price of fishmeal has more than doubled over the past 10 years, while 2011 brought a spike of almost 20%.

However, in 2013 revenues are set to drop significantly as the Ministry of Production (Ministerio de la Producción, PRODUCE), which oversees the industry, slashed quotas for the 2012 November season by 68% to stabilise the anchovy population. At 810,000 tonnes, the industry was faced with its lowest quota in 25 years.


According to the government’s Marine Institute of Peru (Instituto del Mar del Perú, IMARPE), the anchovy population has shrunk to 5m tonnes, 41% down on the 2011 November season and 28% on the average of the past 12 years. According to the institute, the quota should allow just enough anchovy to reproduce and keep next year’s population more or less stable. “Technically we should have lowered the quota to zero – that is how bleak the picture is,” said the minister of production, Gladys Triveño, when announcing the measures. IMARPE attributes the drop in the anchovy population to a rise in the passage of Kelvin waves, coming from Australian waters, which has caused frequent warm currents to enter Peru’s cold, plankton-rich territorial waters and consequently delayed reproduction of the population. However, while anchovy populations are cyclical and subject to maritime conditions, the current lows have also raised allegations of overfishing and a neglect of sound fishing practices in a scramble to capitalise on record-high prices.

Supervision on disembarkation of artisanal and medium-sized boats along Peru’s vast coastline is lax, thus many excess catches to go unreported. Guidelines on catching juvenile anchovy, set up so that the population can rebuild, are also allegedly ignored.


The government has taken a tough stance on the violations and holds the commercial fishing industry – which accounts for 80-94% of the total anchovy haul – responsible. “The commercial fleet has no social conscience,” Paul Phumpiu, Peru’s vice-minister of fisheries, told reporters in January 2013 after announcing fines of nearly $3m on commercial companies for catching more than 18,000 tonnes of juvenile anchovy during the most recent season. Further, PRODUCE has announced placing more inspectors at ports. These moves follow earlier efforts to boost supervision at sea. One such example is a satellite tracking system operating via electronic buoys spread throughout Peru’s territorial commercial waters that ensure trawlers stay within their allocated geo-coordinates.

Domestic Market

The ministry also set new rules to secure sufficient supplies for direct consumption. A jump in demand from Peru’s households and restaurants has pushed up the price of fish. While anchovy is not a part of the national daily diet, the government aims to ensure higher availability of the species at home in an effort to curb price inflation. “It is a paradox, having a resource so rich that it feeds other parts of the planet but barely reaches Peruvians,” said Phumpiu.

With the new regulations, introduced in August 2012, commercial vessels fishing for export are restricted to areas at least 10 miles off the coast. Medium-sized boats – those with a capacity of 10-32 cu metres – are allowed to operate 5-10 miles offshore, while the corridor closest to the shore is reserved for artisanal vessels with a maximum capacity of 10 cu metres. Both areas are home to the predominant share of young anchovies, which prefer shallow water. The catches of medium-sized and artisanal boats are meant to go to the domestic market, with some exceptions in place for fish that is discarded at both the point of embarkation and of entry into processing facilities. Current legislation stipulates that, in compensation for fish that is too small or damaged at sea, 10% of the load at the point of embarkation can be sold to industrial producers. In addition, another 40% of the remaining load for direct consumption can be diverted for industrial use upon arrival at the processing facilities.

Unsteady Seas

While acknowledging the need for more effective regulation, the commercial fishing industry has denied being solely responsible for overfishing and finds the measures misguided. “The industry suffers from a lack of continuity at government level,” Fernando Parodi Zevallos, general manager of Pesquera Hayduk, a leading industrial fishing corporation, told OBG. “Since Ollanta Humala became president, there have been five vice-ministers of fisheries, each with a different view of how the industry should develop.”

Commercial vessels are the only ones subject to quotas, which were introduced in 2009. As a result, the number of medium-sized boats has swelled to up to 1500 in recent years, bringing in significant volumes of fish, including many young ones. Moreover, the industry claims that, due to a lack of supervision at the ports and processing plants, portions of the catches destined for human consumption find their way illegally into fishmeal production.

Protective Measures

As a result, the commercial fishing industry has proposed a series of targeted measures to more effectively curb the dwindling number of young fish and ensure a more stable supply to the domestic market. First, it recommends swifter closure of areas with reported populations of young anchovies. The present timeframe between the initial report of young fish and the official announcement of a no-fishing zone can take up to 15 days, during which fishermen can do significant damage. Another proposal is to oblige medium-sized boats to carry storage crates filled with ice in order to reduce the share of damaged fish.

The National Fishery Society (Sociedad Nacional de Pesqueria, SNP), the association of commercial fishing companies, has backed the industry by emphasising the need for better supervision of medium-sized vessels as a way to reduce the drop in the numbers of young fish and redirect the volumes destined for the domestic market. Moreover, it is calling for a reconversion of a portion of the fleet towards other species such as giant squid and tuna in a bid to alleviate the pressure on the anchovy population and secure adequate supplies for domestic consumption. “The fishing industry has announced interest to invest $25m in pota and tuna,” Jorge Vigil Mattos, chief of the office of economy and statistics at the SNP, told OBG. “With regulatory incentives, the industry could catch up to 500,000 tonnes of giant squid and 6000 tonnes of tuna.”

Despite the debate over how best to regulate anchovy fishing, the commercial industry remains committed. In February 2013 the SNP reported plans to invest around $25m in the expansion of processing capacity, as well as approximately $98m in technologies and vessel modification, to minimise environmental impact.