Paracas: Comparing the Commercial Fisheries of the Anchoveta and the Menhaden

We spent two nights in the city of Lima before heading south to Paracas, a coastal town with a very different built and natural environment than that of Lima. The built environment changes drastically along the route heading southward out of Lima. The scenery shifts from densely populated apartment buildings and commercial streets packed end to end with craft shops, hardware stores, markets, bars, Chinese restaurants, etc., to a desolate expanse of open space scarcely occupied by small huts and shanties.

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As we headed south along the Pacific coast I looked at the vast desert to the left and coastal development to the right, noticing the human desire to be by the water. As we travelled down the beautiful pacific coast admiring the setting sun, the connections of humanity with the water differed as we travelled. The large resort towns shifted to smaller getaways for the super wealthy of Lima, and then fishery ports dominated the landscape.

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In Peru, seven major companies control the Anchoveta (Anchovies) fishery off the coast. Even with quotas and limitations on fishing, each company harvests around 400 tons of Anchoveta per week. The Anchoveta fishery is the largest fish landing in South America, and is mainly used for fish meal to feed the growing poultry industry. Anchovies have been considered a poor mans food in Peru, and a social stigma is attached to the fish itself; they are small, smelly, and undesirable as a gourmet or even common dish. Now, there is a movement to make the Anchoveta a desirable fish for its cultural and ecological signicance. If the Anchoveta was mainly for human consumption and not primarily fish meal, the fishery would be saved due to the sheer quantity of fish needed to produce fish meal. After Paracas we headed to Punta San Juan, and in my observations there I write in more detail of the vast importance of the Anchoveta in the Pacific. This is the largest fishery in South America, and makes Peru by far the largest fish meal producer in the world. The Peruvian Anchoveta is very close in comparison to the Menhaden of Chesapeake Bay, the largest fishery landing in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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Menhaden are an important species for the health of the Bay’s ecosystem as food for Striped Bass, Weakfish, Bluefish, and predatory birds like Osprey and Eagles. Off the coast of Peru, Anchoveta provide food for Fur Seals, Guano birds, Humboldt Penguins, and larger fish. Also like the Peruvian Anchoveta, Menhaden are filter feeders because they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton, cleaning the water in order to survive. The overfishing of Menhaden has had detrimental effects of the ecology of the Chesapeake. The murky brown color of the bay and the growing dead zones are the result of inadequate water filtration that was once accomplished by the Menhaden and oyster bars, both of which are in rapid decline from over harvesting.

As these two fish species are so important ecologically, how can their future be saved? What can be done to reduce the impact of overfishing? Is fish meal really the best use of this resource? It all comes down to what kind of moral consideration we have towards these small but mighty fish.
My group final project for this semester is going to be a documentary about the controversy behind commercial fishing, specifically between the Peruvian Anchoveta and the Menhaden. In this documentary we will seek the answers to our questions regarding the fisheries from stakeholders of differing viewpoints that are directly involved in the controversy.

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