A lowly fish often used for canning or to make fish-meal and fish-oil to feed higher priced farmed species is causing a serious rift between Peru and Chile, two of the world’s leading capture fisheries countries.
At a recent meeting of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) which took place in Santiago, Chile, January 30 - February 3, the Chilean Minister of Economy Pablo Longueira pointed to Perú as one of the causes for the serious depletion of the fishery of Jack Mackerel ("jurel") in the South Pacific Ocean:"Chile fulfilled its commitment of a 60% reduction in the captures of the species in relation to 2010, however, others have increased catches indiscriminately." said Longueira, according to LaTercera.com (in Spanish).
The statement was clearly aimed at accusing Peru, which in the opinion of Chilean fisheries authorities have captured nearly six times more fish than what was agreed at a previous meeting of the SPRFMO.
From the genetic standpoint the species is a single population, therefore the understanding adopted at the previous conference in Cali, Colombia, in January 2011 included both high seas fisheries and those within the Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ, but to some countries such as Peru, the restrictions only apply in international waters, thus each country is free to capture marine resources at will within its own territorial sea (200 nautical miles).
Facing the accusations and criticism, the president of the National Fisheries Society of Peru, Richard Inurritegui, said that "there is a misconception because Peru has complied with the agreed measures, as these are applicable only to high seas fisheries" according to ElComercio.pe (in Spanish).
Jack Mackerel (Trachurus murphyi), also known as Chilean Jack Mackerel, and as "jurel" in Spanish, is a pelagic fish widely distributed in the South Pacific Ocean between the coast of South America, from Ecuador to southern Chile, and New Zealand and Tasmania, Australia. Jurel is described as a fish of medium size, nearly 50 cm in length, although in recent years both abundance and catch sizes have decreased significantly. Still, according to FAO fisheries statistics, Chilean Jack Mackerel is the seventh largest global fishery.
A large net loaded with Jack Mackerel is ready to unload the captured fish onto the fishing vessel.(Screengrab from Pecesgratisno).
Mackerel is the main fisheries resource of Chile representing about 60% of the total Chilean fish captured annually. It is used in part as canned and frozen products for human consumption. However, most of the catch is used for the production of fishmeal and fish oil, which are among the main ingredients for the production of feeds for farmed carnivorous finfish species (i.e. salmon) and marine shrimp in several countries including Chile, China, the EU, Canada and Ecuador.
Until the mid-1990s, catches of mackerel totaled about 5 million tons of which Chile captured almost 90%. Since then, the abundance of the resource has steadily declined while other countries in South America (Peru and Ecuador) and Europe and Oceania have come to participate in the fishery. At present, Chile continues to lead the catch, but other countries like China, Vanuatu, the EU, Russia, Korea and Belize are also involved in the fishery in international waters.
The Lafayette - 50,000-tons, 229-meter long Russian fishing vessel, one of the largest mother-ships in the world, takes part in the Jack Mackerel fisheries in international waters off the coast of South America.(Screengrab from www.marinetraffic.com).
Petur Olaf Rasmunssen
In 2006, Australia, Chile and New Zealand initiated a process to cooperate in establishing an international conservation and management framework to regulate the fishery efforts in region. This accord allowed the creation of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization. Signatories to the Convention include, among others, Australia, Chile, China, Colombia, the Cook Islands, the European Union, the Faroe Islands, New Zealand, Peru, Vanuatu and the USA. Relevant International and Regional Fisheries Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and industry groups are also invited to participate as observers in meetings and negotiations of the organization. The status and conservation of the Chilean Jack Mackerel fishery is one of the main issues of concern for the SPRFMO.
The NGO Greenpeace agrees that Peru and the large Chinese and Russian fishing fleet operating with mother-ships in the South Pacific Ocean are partly responsible for the drastic reduction of the resource. However, the organization insists that Chile is one of the main culprits. Among the reasons supporting the allegation is that the Chilean National Fisheries Council (CNP) has consistently ignored scientific stock assessments, warnings and recommendations by the Chilean Institute of Fisheries Development (IFOP) to reduce mackerel fishing quotas to a sustainable level and, as the resource decreases, it has also been reducing minimum catch sizes, which intensifies the problem by including in the fishery age classes that have not yet been able to spawn and contribute to increase the total biomass.
A couple of days after the end of the SPRFMO meeting in Santiago, Peru has declared that the country will significantly reduce the catches of mackerel in its territorial sea, but did not indicate what constitutes a "significant reduction".
The Jack Mackerel controversy adds to the tensions between the two neighbours. In 2008, Peru demanded Chile to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in connection with a dispute over maritime boundaries in the border between both countries. Recently, two Chilean nationals were detained in Peru in the vicinity of military installations and accused of espionage. One of them was released when the espionage charges could not be substantiated and the second remains in custody. The two countries have a long history of conflict. Peru lost a large portion of its southern territory following a war with Chile in 1879-1883.
The video below is in Spanish, but the central concept of the protest is clear in the wording of the signs "Save the Jack Mackerel" ("Salven al Jurel").