Expanded quota shows Peruvian fishery recovering from El Niño

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
After several fishing seasons of well below normal catch the Peruvian anchovy fishery—by far the most important source of omega-3s—appears to be returning to normal with the release of an expanded fishing quota.

On Thursday the Instituto del Mar del Peru (IMARPE), the Peruvian fisheries regulatory body, released a quota of 2 million tons for the second of the two annual fishing seasons.  It is the first time that the second season quota has been set at the 2 million ton or greater level since 2013, when the harvest level was fixed at 2.3 million tons for the period.

Adam Ismail, executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) said the new quota eases some supply pressure in the industry and is a sign of better times ahead after several very challenging years from a supply perspective. Despite other marine and non-marine sources of omega-3s coming onto the market, the Peruvian fishery is still believed to supply about 70% of the world’s servings of omega-3s.

“It was about an 80% increase from the quota for this season last year, and that season was pretty much a null,” ​Ismail told NutraIngredients-USA. “Everybody seems pretty confident this next fishing season will be pretty close to normal.”

Longer lasting El Niño

The extraordinary fecundity of the Peruvian fishery is attributable to the strong upwelling of cold, nutrient rich water fueled by the cold Humboldt Current, which flows northward along the western coast of South America. The waters support a dense population of short-lived anchovy, which feed directly on the rich plankton growth made possible by the nutrient density of the water.

That whole train becomes derailed during the El Niño phenomenon. During these periodic events, a vast pool of warmer water forms in the western Pacific, giving rise to atmospheric effects that span the Western Hemisphere.  But by far the most profound effects are in the local waters themselves, with the higher water temperatures and lack of nutrients from upwelling causes the fish population to crash and the fish themselves to disperse, leaving very few fish to catch in the harvesting areas, as was the case last year.

The coming of an El Niño is not a surprise, but the anomaly this time around was that phenomenon lasted much longer than usual in Peruvian waters.  The cycle stretched over a number of anchovy fishing cycles spanning several years, which is something new.

“This was a pretty strong El Niño,”​ Ismail said. “It was basically done last year but there was still this pocket of warm water off Peru that is finally starting to cool.”

Long term market changes

Ismail said that the effect of something like 18 months or more with very little fish oil coming out of Peru is still working its way through the supply end of the spectrum.  But the shortage, while not a crisis, has changed the market in significant ways, he said.  The exact parameters of that change was a matter of some debate at the recent meeting of IFFO, the Marine Ingredients Organization, Ismail said.

“Everybody has kind of has their own viewpoint.  There are some who believe that the shortage has not had that big of an effect because the industry has built of a lot of inventory of omega-3s raw material that is just being used up.  At the same time I’ve heard of companies that have set up alternative supply chains in other parts of the world,”​ he said.

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