The Nature Conservancy works with artisanal and industrial fisheries, providing support and advice for fisheries management in the Humboldt Current. Through this work, the Conservancy aims for sustainability – both economically and ecologically – by improving fishing practices and developing management models that can be applied throughout the Current.
The Pacific Ocean sends a current of cold water flowing along Chile’s coast, creating one of the most productive marine natural areas in the world: the Humboldt Current. The Current’s course continues north, alongside the continent, through Peru to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
This unique current was described and studied by the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt in the early nineteenth century. His research explains the atmospheric changes that cause ocean water to be cooled (a process called upwelling), resulting in truly unique habitats onshore: from the temperate rain forests of the Valdivian Coastal Range, to the cloud-fed vegetation of Atiquipa, to the world's driest desert, the Atacama.
Being so close to the equator, the waters of this current are unusually cold, with surface temperatures of 16o C (61o F). Nutrients from the ocean floor are transported by the current, feeding abundant plankton, which in turn support many other fish species including anchovies (Engraulis ringens), a fish that provides a livelihood for thousands of fishermen and is a staple of the fishing industry in Peru and Chile.
The Current has a lot to offer and everything to lose
The anchovy, a small fish only about 20 cm (less than 8 in), is the most heavily fished species in the world. Although direct consumption of the anchovy has significantly increased due to its nutritional values (high fat, protein and Omega 3 content), its primary commercial value is in the production of fishmeal and fish oil, making it an important foreign exchange product for Peru and Chile.
Overexploitation of fisheries has brought environmental consequences to the marine ecosystem of the Humboldt Current, impacting the availability of food for coastal seabirds like penguins, and other predators such as marine mammals, who depend on fish populations for their survival. As a result, these species migrate or die, leading to reduced populations, loss of fish, wildlife and their habitats, and disruption of natural cycles that sustain the fishing economies of both countries.
A replicable model
The Nature Conservancy works with artisanal and industrial fishermen, collaborating with regulators, university researchers, fishing cooperatives and the private sector to improve fishing practices and to develop models for sustainable management of fisheries.
The Conservancy works with the world’s experts in marine conservation and fisheries management to continue improvement of a tool known as Area Management and Exploitation for Benthic Resources (AMERB). AMERB, which has been employed by the Government of Chile for two decades, ensures sustainability by taking into account environmental, economic and social considerations.
AMERB, which is implemented by the fishermen themselves, has proven to be a successful model for the conservation and sustainable use of fisheries. The Nature Conservancy is working to improve this model, to integrate the marine landscape with the economic development. These innovations are intended for replication in Peru and also countries of the South Pacific.