By FRANKLIN BRICENO and FRANK BAJAK
CALLAO, Peru (AP) _ The ocean off Peru boasts the world’s richest fishing grounds, but Taurino Querevalu is returning to port empty again after a hunt for Peruvian anchovy, cursing his empty nets and an increasingly stingy sea.
A little more than a decade ago, Querevalu’s 8-ton wooden boat rarely returned with an empty hold as it does on this day motoring back to Lima’s port of Callao, the low-slung clouds above as gray as the sea mirroring them.
“There used to be fish for everybody,” the 48-year-old trawler captain laments, leaning on the rail as a stiff breeze buffets his leathery brow. “You’d run into immense schools.”
Querevalu’s frustrated search for the silvery, stiletto-sized fish reflects a voracious, growing global demand for the protein-rich fish meal, and oil, into which nearly Peru’s entire anchovy catch is converted. It also reflects unremitting cheating by commercial fleets on quotas and other regulations designed to protect the species.
Not only has overfishing of the Peruvian anchovy, or anchoveta, battered the industry that makes Peru far and away the world’s No. 1 fish meal exporter, it has also raised alarm about food security in a nation that had long been accustomed to cheap, abundant seafood.
The drop in the anchoveta population has over the years affected the food chain, as stocks of hundreds of bigger wild fish and marine animals that eat it have also thinned.