Peruvian anchovy threatened by El Nino, overfishing

Anchovy, a species key to Peruvian fisheries as well as to the South Pacific ecosystem, could once again face danger unless it receives adequate protection, Carmen Heck, policy director at the Peruvian branch of Oceana, recently told Latin Business Daily.

“It is the main fishing resource extracted in Peru and is basic for all the food chain of the Humboldt current," Heck said in a phone interview. " It is not in danger of extinction, but is very vulnerable."

There are only 25 countries that handle 90 percent of fisheries and Peru is among them with one of the world´s biggest fishing industries. The fishing industry there is based on “anchoveta," a type of anchovy that lives in Peruvian waters.

Because anchovies live in cold waters, the warming of the Pacific Ocean, known as the El Nino phenomenon, makes it more vulnerable. A strong El Nino phenomenon is forecast for the coming months, making it a critical period for the anchovy. 

“With Oceana, we are working so that the appropriate actions are taken,” Heck said.

In addition, there are other threats to anchovy, such as illegal fishing and potential overfishing.  

Anchovy is eaten by many other species, such as mackerel or hake. It is also food for many other marine life, including mammals and seabirds. The livelihood of artisanal fishermen also depends on it.

Peru's Production Ministry must make a decision in coming days on whether to open the second anchovy industrial fishing season of the year, which normally starts in November. Anchovy is processed into fishmeal, used as protein feed for livestock and is a key export of Peru.

“Peruvian law states that the Institute of the Sea of Peru (IMARPE) must evaluate the fishing stock,” Heck said. 

IMARPE has already recommended against a second fishing season due to protocol that at least 5 million anchovy adults must exist.

“IMARPE has said that this year the total biomass is less than 5 million and of this 40 percent are juveniles, which means there are only 2 million adult anchovies,” Heck said.

Despite this, the Production Ministry has ordered two new sea explorations that involve the use of ships from the local fishing fleet while postponing a decision to cancel the season.

Oceana, the world's largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization, has recommended that the protocol be respected and warned against a second season.

“If there is fishing now, the resource will be impacted," Heck said. "In 1972-73 during another El Nino, there was also so much overfishing that the stocks of anchovy took more than 15 years to recover."

In recent days, Oceana publicized a letter sent to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and other authorities in which more than 85 renowned experts advised against opening the anchovy fishing season.

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