Overfishing in Peru’s Waters

by Emma Keeler

Fishing is arguably the greatest driver of the decline in the density and diversity of marine populations. Although fishing is not inherently harmful to the ocean, commercial vessels often catch more fish than can be naturally replenished, resulting in a global phenomenon known as overfishing. Almost 30% of commercially fished stocks are overfished, and 60% of stocks are fully fished — in both scenarios, the populations are pushed to their biological limits. The exploitation of fish has also triggered a 39% decrease in marine species in the past four decades. Overfishing poses a major threat to the social and economic welfare of many countries, particularly coastal nations. Not only is fishing a vital facet of these economies, but it is a central element of the diets of these nations’ citizens. The oceans and the fish they support are as much a globally shared resource as they are a responsibility that must be preserved by each member of the international community. The matter of overfishing is one that must be met with sustainable solutions, starting with Peru’s proposed policies.             Despite having a population of a mere 32.2 million people, Peru has the second largest national fishing catch in the world, only surpassed by that of China. According to a report released earlier this year by the Food and Agriculture Organization, Peruvian fishers have caught, on average, 6.4 million metric tons of fish each year between 2005 to 2014. This has led to Peru’s seafood sector becoming its highest source of foreign income after mining products. Much of that income is related to the dominant fish meal industry; Peru is the world’s top exporter of fish meal, which is used as a high-protein animal feed, particularly in the Chinese livestock market. Understandably, the fish species primarily used in the production of fish meal, the Peruvian anchovy or anchoveta, has been disproportionately affected by overfishing. In October, the Peruvian government ordered deep cuts in the country’s 1,200-boat commercial fleet’s anchoveta allowance after anchoveta stocks plummeted to about 5 million metric tons — at the low end of what fishermen would catch during previous years. According to marine scientist Patricia Majluf, the anchoveta population has dwindled to less than half its 2008 volume. That year, boat-by-boat quotas were imposed on large commercial vessels that composed 94% of the trade, excluding trawlers under 32 tons. In addition to the quotas, commercial vessels larger than 32 tons were barred from fishing within 10 miles of Peru’s coast, leaving that region to the unrestricted small and artisanal vessels. These vessels are permitted to operate year round, as long as their catch is used solely for human consumption. Due to the lack of regulation, the majority of their catch is instead channeled illicitly to more profitable fishmeal processing. To exacerbate this issue, the initial five miles from the coast are where the majority of anchovy spawning occurs and juveniles congregate. Although Peru has decreased its fishing quotas from 8.5 metric tons to 3.5 metric tons, the lack of regulation has compromised the efficacy of the Peruvian restrictions at adequately protecting fish stocks.         In addition to the anchoveta, Peru’s sharks are victims of overfishing. A recent DNA study by non-profit organizations Oceana and ProDelphinius found that 43% of the 450 samples taken from fish in Peruvian restaurants, supermarkets, and fishing terminals were mislabeled. Some of this mislabeling is deliberate, responding to the fall in Peru’s fish population and the concurrent pressure to substitute the void with alternative species. Populations of three of the most common shark species fished in Peru, shortfin mako, smooth hammerhead, and common thresher, all in various stages of decline. Though Peru acknowledges that it must strengthen its enforcement, it is still more advanced than other South American nations when it comes to shark conservation.            Given Peru’s prominent position in the fishing industry and its vested interest in the health of the ocean, it is prepared to institute new policies to promote the longevity of the Peruvian fishing industry and the ocean as a whole. These policies avoid inhibiting the existing fishing industry and include: banning all fishing in the five miles closest to Peru’s coasts (and the fishing of juvenile anchoveta), decreasing the fishing quota to 2 metric tons, improving enforcement by increasing the number of inspectors from 60 to 1,000 along the 1,860-mile coastline, increasing fines for unauthorized catches, and, above all, using modern technology to accurately trace shark and other fish, from when they are caught to when they are marketed. Peru would like other South American nations, particularly Chile, Brazil, and Argentina, to improve their policies surrounding shark conservation before Peru changes its own.

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