In 1996, Peru was second to China in terms of the volume of fish landings and accounted for more than 10% of the world's catch. In 1997, this sector generated more than 2% of Peru's gross domestic product and consistently accounts for approximately 16% of all export products (second only to mining products). Bordered to the north by Ecuador and the south by Chile, the Peruvian coastline stretches 3100km (01°0l'48" and 18°2103" south latitude), and has a continental shelf of 87,200km2. Its stark coastal desert is dotted with over 70 fishing ports ranging in population from a few hundred fishermen and their families to several hundred thousand persons. The fishing sector as a whole employs about 80,000 persons, out of a total population of over 24 million.
With the exception of ENSO years, the arid coastal climate is stable, as a result of the relatively cold coastal sea surface temperatures and high barometric pressure. There is evidence of reliance on living marine resources dating back to 7000 B.C., and continuing through the Moche, Chimbu, Nazca, and Paracas cultures, as well as during the Spanish colonial period up to the present. The focus, however, has changed from subsistence fishing for local consumption toward supplying a growing internal and international market. This makes fishermen not only reliant on local conditions and supply, which are impacted by the changing environment, but also vulnerable to fluctuations in global market prices and direct and indirect consumer preferences.
Peruvian coastal waters are home to over 107 commercial species (pelagic, demersal, and benthonic), of which 73 are fish, 11 crustacean, 16 mollusks, 2 echinoderms, and 5 algaes. Some of these species are classified as overexploited, while others are considered underutilized. Fluctuations in abundance of these species are a response to the environmental variability (often ENSO related) in combination with fish population dynamics, fishing pressure, habitat destruction, and pollution. Often, it is impossible to determine the precise reason for a population's variation
TABLE 1 Impacts of ENSO Warm Events on Common Marine Species
ENSO (warm event)
Pelagics (e.g., primarily anchovy)
Start of event
Schools concentrate near coast (easier to catch)
Schools go deeper/migrate south
Increased natural mortality
Go deeper/migrate south (harder to catch)
Decreased natural mortality
Littoral (e.g., scallops, shrimp, octopus) Littoral (e.g., mussels, crabs) Seabirds, marine mammals
Adapted from Ñiquen, M. et al., (1999). Efectos del Fenómeno El Niño 1997-1998 Sobre Los Principales Recursos Pelágicos en la Costa Peruana, In J. Tarazona and E. Castillo (Eds.), Rev. perú. boil. Vol. Extraordinario: 85-96.
because of the many factors in operation, in addition to the relative lack of knowledge of the life cycles of many species. What is clear is that some species are favored by the ENSO-related warm waters, while others are harmed. Table 1 summarizes some of the more consistent impacts on different species during an ENSO event.
Almost as varied as these marine organisms are those who harvest them. There are many types of fishers who use a range of equipment and techniques to gather the living marine resources. These fishers range from shore-based breathhold divers who use only a mask, fins, and speargun to shoot the large groupers (Ephinephelus labriformis) to the crews of the 800-ton industrial purse seine ships who use spotter planes and satellite images to search for schools of anchovy (Engraulis ringens) and sardine (Sardinops sagax sagax). Fishermen must register legally as artisanal (small-scale) or industrial, based on techniques, target species, and the size of their vessel. ENSO impacts these groups differently.
ENSO events shift the spatial availability and relative abundance of the species; a given event may benefit one member and harm another.
The artisanal subsector consists of more than 40,000 small-scale producers operating about 7000 vessels and can be characterized by the use of relatively rudimentary technology that has changed little over the last several decades. Artisanal fishermen use diving apparatus, nets, longlines, hook and line, and collect algaes and mollusks in the intertidal zones. Historically, they have occupied the lower socioeconomic strata of society, have been in general self-employed, and have had limited political influence because of poor organization as an economic subsector. Thus, their voice is manifested primarily through voting power.
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