The anchoveta (Engraulis ringens), a wide-eyed fish 12 to 15 centimeters long, is prevalent in the Pacific coastal waters of Peru. When I first heard of this little fish, I had no idea how important it was for both the environment and the Peruvian population.
Commercially, the anchoveta is used to produce fishmeal for animal feed and, to a lesser extent, for human consumption. But it’s also an important source of nutrition for the fish, mammals and birds of the Humboldt Current, one of the most biodiverse cold-water ocean currents in the world.
Two years ago, AIDA began collaborating with the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law and Earthjustice to recommend changes to Peruvian law that would ensure sustainable management of the anchoveta fishery.
We’ve recently released a report in which we stress the importance of ecosystem management. Decisions about how much anchoveta to catch, and when, should take into account both the commercial fishing industry and the health of the Humboldt Current ecosystem.
Here are the five most important reasons to promote ecosystem management of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery:
Most marine predators of the Humboldt Current depend, to some extent, on the anchoveta. The small fish is food to Humboldt Penguins and other birds, marine mammals like sea lions, and other commercial fish, such as hake, horse mackerel and mackerel. Fishery management that considers the ecosystem as a whole will help to save not just the anchoveta, but the many species that depend on it as well.
The Peruvian anchoveta fishery has been on the verge of collapse. It has had to be closed twice: once in the early-1970s and once in the late-1990s. The lack of an adequate ecosystem management plan creates fluctuations in the anchoveta population. Continuing this way in a year with reduced populations could mean the collapse of the fishery.
The demand for fish implies, increasingly, that more juvenile anchoveta are being captured before they have reached the age of reproduction. As a result, the anchoveta cannot replenish its population fast enough to keep up with harvests.
The laws that regulate the anchoveta fishery differ depending on whether the fish is for human consumption or will be used to produce by-products such as fishmeal and fish oils. A management plan that integrates both uses must be established to create a truly sustainable fishery that also takes into account the anchoveta’s relationship with other species.
The Peruvian anchoveta fishery is the largest in the world. Implementing institutional and regulatory reform to promote ecosystem management of the species would set a precedent for other countries in the region to improve their standards.
I invite you to review the report (in Spanish). Now is the time to care for the little species that do a big job in our seas!
The ocean knows no bounds and its relationships are complex. Ecosystem management of the anchoveta fishery will ensure that there will be enough fish to feed the needs of industry and maintain the ecological balance of the Humboldt Current.