Peruvian fishmeal industry threatened by overfishing

Peruvian fishmeal exports may bounce back this season, but the scale of illicit overfishing by smaller boats continues to threaten the long term viability of the industry, US officials warned.

Peru is the world's top exporter of fishmeal, which is used as a high-protein animal feed, as a substitute for oilseed-meal, particularly in the Chinese livestock market.

The US Department of Agriculture's bureau in Lima forecast Peru's fishmeal production in 20167-18 to bounce back to 730,000 tonnes, up 11% year-on-year, but warned that "overfishing and stocks management will continue to challenge the industry going forward".

Bounce-back

The bureau said the forecast increase in production represents a return to normal levels, after lower anchovy weights supressed the tonnage fished in the previous year.

Fishmeal exports in for 2017-18 up 13%, at a three-year-high of 725,000 tonnes.

But the Peruvian fishmeal industry, which accounts for some 16% of global production, is threatened by overfishing, particularly by small and artisanal boats, the bureau warned.

Tighter quotas still offer 'inadequate' protection

"Mounting concerns by the Ministry of Production over the declining fish stocks are forcing Peru to tighten its regulations," the bureau said.

 "Previously catch quotas were set at the 8.5m tonnes level; however, quota sizes have been dropping steadily towards 3.5-4.0m tonnes in an attempt to sustainably manage and rebuild stocks."

The bureau estimates that the capacity of the country's fishing industry is about four times larger than the permissible catch.

But the bureau said Peruvian restrictions "have not succeeded in adequately protecting fish stocks."

Small vessels ply illicit trade

A key problem is the lack of regulation for small vessels, which can operate year round near the Peruvian shore.

These vessels are supposed to provide for local human consumption, but the bureau warned that in practice "most of this catch is channelled illicitly to more profitable fishmeal processing".

"Troubling for the long-term health of this fishery is that poorly regulated smallscale and artisanal vessels normally operate where the bulk of anchovy spawning occurs and juveniles congregate."