December 14, 2009

Anchovy’s Popularity May Be Short-Lived

Due to climate change and overfishing, the popularity of the anchovy may be short-lived.

Peru's fishermen can catch around 20,000 tons a day in about a 3 mile radius.

In contrast, a European zone where a ban is in effect through at least 2010, the catch level has been set at between 20,000 and 30,000 tons of adult anchovy.

Anchovy stock has enjoyed protected status for the past four years the Bay of Biscay along the western coast of France and the northern coast of Spain.

In Peru's Pacific fringe, fed by cold, rich waters of the low-salinity Humboldt Current, the Peruvian anchoveta -- Engraulis ringens -- is king.

The Andean country fishes about six to eight million tons a year, which is way ahead of Chili's one million tons a year.

As adult fish, anchovies measure about 12 to 19 inches and account for eight percent of global catch.

According to a study by IMARPE (Peru's Marine Research Institute), anchovies haven't always been so abundant in Peru. About four centuries ago, the fish were considered rare.

During this mini-ice age, a slight drop in temperature that lasted from around 1400 to 1820, warmer water conditions paradoxically prevailed in the Humboldt ecosystem, explained researchers led by marine biologist Dimitri Gutierrez.

There were less cold water currents and thus less anchovies.

Arnaud Bertrand, oceanographer at Lima's Research Institute for Development, said, "We can of course think that one day, we will fall back into unproductive conditions, that everything could fall apart."

Climate change has already made a dent on this portion of the Pacific Ocean, where 10 percent of global fishing takes place on less than one percent of its surface.

The anchovy stock collapsed when aggressive cycles of the El Nino weather phenomenon hit the Pacific Ocean.

Studies have shown that civilizations that prospered along this deserted coastline thanks to maritime resources have come and gone according to major climate variations.

The Caral-Supe civilization, the earliest known urban settlement in the Americas, thus thrived for nearly 1,500 years until some 3,500 years ago.

Peru produces half of the world's fish flour and is now taking steps to protect its precious resource.

They are reducing its fishing fleet to 1,400 boats, adjusting its fishing practices, as well as closely following catches and scientific observations.

This year, Peru imposed individual quotas per boat and on the amount of fish that can be netted over several days. It is part of a move to respond to warming that tends to take place in oceanic zones lacking oxygen.

Betrand noted that despite accounting for the biggest stock in the world, anchovies are seldom used for human food, crushed instead into a fine flour to make animal feed for fowl, pigs and farm-raised fish.