When I was studying anthropology I took a course in pre-Columbian Peru. It was an amazing course by Professor Judy Zeitlin and one of the things I learned in the class is that the weather phenomenon we know as El Nino, has been affecting the people of Peru for millennia. If I remember correctly, the El Nino event essentially reversed the typical climate patterns, creating floods in the typically arid coast and droughts in the mountains and rain forests. There is a very clear correlation in the archaeological record with the rise and fall of various Peruvian civilizations and El Nino events. One of the many factors associated with these cultural declines over the centuries is the boom/bust cycle of the Peruvian anchovy (Engraulis ringens). When plentiful, these fish are known for the largest catches of wild caught fish and may be the most plentiful fish in the entire ocean.
Things change with an El Nino event and the vast schools disappear. Civilizations don’t collapse anymore, but it does send reverberations through the fishing industry and beyond. Fishmeal is the main use of the Peruvian anchovy, which is used as food in the aquaculture, pig and poultry industries. What little set aside for human consumption is often sold as sardines or “Peruvian sardines.” They are also known as anchoveta to distinguish them in the market from the more familiar salt cured anchovy.
With the end of this most recent El Nino, landings of Peruvian anchovies are expected to improve in 2017. This due to the lifecycle of these fish, they have naturally short lives and spawn twice per year. This is aided by the return of normal weather patterns and ocean currents, along with the major river sending vital nutrients to the coast from the Andes. 2016 saw a 15 year low in volume, but with an expected catch in excess of 2.5 million metric tons coming up, orders are already being placed. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but if stock studies look promising then the season could start as early as mid-April.
Yay! All too often it’s bad news when talking about a species’ numbers. It’s always good news to hear of a rebound. And anchovies? Oh, boy!
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