The world’s top fish species is full of nutrients. Despite this, it ends up as feed for farmed fish and livestock, rather than on Peruvian dinner plates.
Fish becomes feed, not food
The superfish anchoveta is the world's top species and full of nutrients. Despite this it ends up as feed for farmed fish and livestock, rather than on Peruvian dinner plates.
This is a translated article. To read it in Norwegian, please click here.
ive hours at sea, off the coast of Peru, the wooden boat María Maximiliana glides over the waves. The darkness embraces the eight men who make up the crew. They engage in artisanal fishing and have ventured out to sea under the leadership of Captain Joaquín Cruz Navarro (52) in search of small, valuable fish.
Yesterday's excursion ended with empty nets. Today, they were lucky. The fishermen found a shoal of anchoveta, a type of anchovy. A fish you have probably eaten without knowing it yourself.
The fishermen in Captain Navarro’s crew fish anchoveta. When the morning comes, the fish is sent to canneries. The big fishing industry dominates in Peru, at the expense of artisanal fishermen like Navarro, who fish for direct human consumption. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
World-renowned, but anonymous
Anchoveta is the most landed species in the world. Yet, you probably haven’t heard of it. It is not served on pizza or in marinades. Unlike its cousin from the Mediterranean, almost all anchoveta becomes feed for farmed fish and livestock around the world.
The farmed salmon on your dinner plate has probably eaten anchoveta from Peru. The omega-3 tablets you take each morning may also contain oil from the nutritious fish.
Astounding amounts of fish
Norway imported about 73 000 tonnes of fishmeal and fish oil from Peru in 2019. Most of it went to feed production, while about one-third was fish oil, probably to produce omega-3 capsules.
According to biologist Julio González Fernandez, dean of the National University Agraria La Molina and former Deputy Minister of Fisheries, it takes about 4kg of fish to produce 1kg of fishmeal. This means that imports from Peru in 2019 required about 294 500 tonnes of fish. .
Almost all anchoveta, around 98%, is pressed and ground into fishmeal and oil. However, some of it is served at eateries by the coast.
At the family-run restaurant La Curva, near the port of Chimbote, the owner Jhovana Díaz prepares appetizing dishes for hungry customers.
Jhovana Díaz prepares ceviche, a traditional dish containing fresh fish mixed with lemon, salt, garlic, and chili. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
-Ceviche and chilcano are in high-demand here, ays Díaz. Anchoveta is the star of both dishes.
- A well-prepared and fresh anchoveta is the best thing you can eat, says Patricia Majluf Chiok. She is a biologist, former Deputy Minister of Fisheries, and vice president of the organization Oceana in Peru. In Chiok’s opinion, anchoveta is among the most nutritious foods in the world. She has worked hard over several years to increase the direct human consumption of the fish.
Full of nutrients
Anchoveta, with its 19 grams of protein per 100 grams of fish, is gorged with nutrients. It is rich in several vitamins and important minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Nutritionist Lilia Guzmán Palma at La Caleta Hospital in Chimbote also pinpoints that anchoveta are very versatile.
- It can be used as a dietary supplement for children or included in school meals, but also in traditional Peruvian dishes, , she says.
Still, anchoveta is not particularly popular on Peruvian plates. Even though malnutrition and poverty were already a problem before the covid-19 pandemic began.
A well-cooked and fresh anchoveta is the best thing you can eat.
Patricia Majluf Chiok, Vice President of Oceana Peru
A strong need
One-fifth of Peru's population lives in poverty. 13.1 percent of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished. The number is more than twice as high in some regions. The probability of these numbers deteriorating is high. Peru has been hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic. In such a situation, nutritious and affordable food like anchoveta could play an important role.
Still, the fish is not available to those who need it most.
- They don’t sell it in all markets, and people don’t always know how to prepare it. Canned anchoveta is also very expensive, says nutritionist Palma.
The fish that are currently pressed for their oil and sent out of the country, could help to reduce nutritional problems and to increase self-sufficiency, according to several of the people we have spoken to in Peru.
– If foods such as anchoveta were available in areas with high malnutrition, such as in the mountains, it would be very beneficial, says biologist Fernandez.
Although the fish isn’t widely available in markets today, it seems that the pandemic is changing people's attitudes towards anchoveta.
Armando Purizaca García has devoted his entire life to selling fish. He stands at the fish market in Chimbote every day, selling fresh fish to local customers in the morning dew.
Only two of the stands at the fish market La Perla sell anchoveta. Even though it is the biggest supply centre for wholesalers in Chimbote. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
– Previously, people preferred other species, but now they buy more anchoveta. The consumption of the fish has doubled during the pandemic, says Garcia
Garcia thinks his customers consider anchoveta to be healthy. At the same time, it is a fish many can afford.
One kilo of anchoveta usually costs 1 Peruvian sol, about 0.27 American dollars. The price makes it possible for even extremely poor families to buy the fish. Yet only two stalls sell anchoveta at the largest fish market in the port city of Chimbote. It is also difficult to find canned goods containing Peruvian anchoveta in local shops. Why is that the case?
A powerful industry
The fishmeal industry is a central part of the Peruvian economy, which largely relies on exports.
– The industry views anchoveta as a resource primarily for fishmeal and fish oil production, says biologist and former Deputy Minister of Fisheries Chiok.
Fish caught the previous night is unloaded. Boat owners usually gift some anchoveta to people with limited financial means during the unloading process. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
Chiok is part of the organization Oceana, that has worked to prioritize anchoveta for direct human consumption. Yet, the industry works hard to maintain its own interests, complicating this type of work.
– The industry insists that anchoveta is not appropriate for direct human consumption, she says. – Even if we had the best fisheries management, nutrition in Peru would remain neglected, since the export interests are so great. That’s what’s lucrative.
Our photographer met Marta (65) on the pier. Every day Marta travels to the harbour and receives fish as a gift from the fishermen. Like many others with limited financial means, she has found opportunities in the small fish. She prepares it and sells food to workers in the industrial zone outside the pier. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
Artisanal fishermen lose out
The prioritisation of large-scale fishing industry in Peru comes at the expense of artisanal fishermen fishing for human consumption.
Us Peruvians are the big losers
Wilmer Lòpez Lauri
Wilmer López Lauri leads an organization that promotes fishing for direct consumption in the region. He accuses the Peruvian state of creating conditions that paralyze the canning sector and discriminate against small-scale fishing. The fishing boats for artisanal fishing are in poor condition and receive little support from the authorities for improvements. The conditions primarily facilitate export-oriented industrial fishing for fishmeal and -oil.
– Us Peruvians are the big losers, says Lauri. It is the organization for industrial fishing, Sociedad Nacional Pesquera, that benefits from the current use of anchoveta.
He is supported by trade union leader Antonio Modesto Menzón Mendoza. He has worked as a fisherman since 1976 and represents artisanal fishermen in the region.
– The authorities do not give us the facilities we need. Our situation is chaotic because there is no work, says Mendoza.
Artisanal fishing has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, as several of the canneries they sell to have been closed, and it has not been possible for them to go out to sea for long periods of time.
The pandemic has hit both the small-scale fishermen and cannery workers hard. Work was stopped for a long time, but they were able to return towards the end of 2020. Workers get paid based on how much fish they clean. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
Patricia Maljuf Chiok also gives the small-scale fishermen her support.
– It is a very bad situation for the fishermen. No one takes care of them. Artisanal fishermen are neglected and do not receive social support, she says.-They have no form of safety or life insurance, nor equipment to go out to sea safely.
Accusations of discrimination
Trade union leader Mendoza says that the authorities sanction artisanal fishermen to a much greater extent than industrial fishing for catching young fish, also called fry.
While industrial fishing only has to report that they have caught fry and pay fines, artisanal fishing is constantly checked by the authorities, Mendoza says. He believes that this should also apply to industrial fishing and says that it is unsustainable that fishing for fry is in practice permitted for the large-scale industry.
Zero tolerance for fry: Inspectors authorized by the authorities stand on the Cridani pier, ready to measure the fish with the aim of protecting the species. Trade union leader Mendoza believes that this practice should to a greater extent also apply to industrial fishing. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
–If the species is fished before it reaches adult size and they do not count fry that is caught in or hooked on the nets, it is "bread for today, but hunger for tomorrow". It is an extermination decree,, Mendoza argues
The way anchoveta is managed does not only affect the small nutrient-rich fish itself, but also the rest of the ecosystem. Anchoveta is important food for many species, eaten by everything from larger fish like bonito to squid, seabirds, and marine mammals like sea lions.
Anchoveta move in large shoals and is a keystone species that plays an important role in the ecosystem. But as of today, anchoveta are not managed from an ecosystem perspective, says biologist Patricia Majluf Chiok.
– All species that depend on anchoveta are affected and become less resistant to environmental changes such as El Niño and La Niña, which occur more frequently due to climate change, she says.
Anchoveta are not managed from an ecosystem perspective as of today
Patricia Majluf Chiok, Deputy Oceana
A contaminated bay
For a long time, Chimbote was known as the city that stinks. The bay in Chimbote was heavily polluted, partly due to previously uncontrolled discharges of fish sludge into the bay. It is the processing of anchoveta into fishmeal and fish oil that polluted both the bay and the air.
Fishing, both artisanal and industrial, is one of the most important economic activities in Chimbote. (Photo: Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada)
Local Chimbotanos used to say that the city stinks "because there is money", meaning that the stench from the fishmeal factories did not mean much because it provided income. But the consequences are not to be missed.
According to research by the journalist organization Danwatch in 2020, the seabed in Chimbote is covered by a three-meter-thick layer of sludge. The smell from the factories also spreads in the air and several of the people interviewed by Danwatch claim that emissions from the industry lead to health consequences for the local population.
There are still problems with the enforcement and maintenance of environmental laws in the industry, and illegal activity is alarmingly common.
Fish becomes feed, not food
The small fish is an enormous resource - both for humans and for the ecosystem. It will become increasingly key in the face of a climate, nature, and health crisis. Norwegian farmed salmon has become dependent on resources with great potential to contribute to better nutrition where it is sorely needed. Fish that also mean a lot for artisanal fishermen and for the ecosystem.
It is high time that we seriously consider the question of which resources should and should not be part of feed in the future.
All photo (in Peru): Janet Abigail Díaz Moncada
Research (in Peru): Magali Estrada Astiquipan