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Peru Mahi-Mahi 1

Shaping Sustainability in Peru's Jumbo-Flying Squid and Mahi-Mahi Fisheries

May 7, 2024
Peru has made steady progress towards sustainability thanks to collaboration up and down the nation’s fish supply chain

It's early morning in the coastal town of Lurin, just an hour south of Peru's bustling capital, Lima. Humberto Saravia, the managing director of seafood company PECEPE, proudly guides a group of visitors through a new, state-of-the-art processing plant. More than 100 workers are producing seafood from the world’s largest squid fishery.

An intricate dance unfolds as men and women oversee the processing of colossal jumbo-flying squid, many weighing over 30 pounds. The squid are unloaded directly from refrigerated trucks onto conveyor belts. Then the 10-tenticled cephalopods are sliced and sorted into a myriad of frozen products. They are destined for sale in markets across Europe, Asia and the United States. Nothing is wasted. There are buyers even for the sharp teeth that line each sucker on the squids’ tentacles.

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Workers at PECEPE's squid processing plant in Lurin, Peru.

I toured PECEPE as part of a week-long learning trip to Peru to understand the impacts of the Walton Family Foundation’s Peruvian fisheries strategy since its inception in 2016. Joining me were foundation colleagues Moira McDonald, Environment Program Director, and Teresa Ish, who leads the foundation’s Oceans Initiative.

When I began working in Peru, in 2017, I recognized the vast opportunities within the country's fishing sector. Seven years later, I can see firsthand the magnitude of accomplishments the foundation’s partners have achieved. It’s impressive.

Driving positive change in the fisheries sector required aligning sustainability with self-interest. But there has also been an enormous amount of work put into building collaboration, trust and open dialogue among all stakeholders. That includes end buyers, supply chain actors, policymakers and local communities. This collective, multi-stakeholder approach has helped build a shared understanding of challenges and a unified commitment to sustainability.

Moira and Renu in Peru
Renu Mittal (right) with Moira Mcdonald at PECEPE in Peru.

PECEPE is a great example of the progress being made, not only in modernizing squid processing but in their commitment to maintaining exceptional labor standards.

"In traditional Peruvian plants, managers would be separated on different floors," Humberto explains. "But here, we all share access to the same high-quality facilities and amenities, including a nutritious lunch, no matter our role within the company."

This progressive approach to employee welfare is a point of pride for PECEPE. It recently joined CAPECAL, an association of squid processing companies collaborating on a Fisheries Improvement Project. The project is supported by foundation grantees like World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP).

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Peru has made impressive improvements in the sustainability its its mahi-mahi and jumbo flying squid fisheries thanks to actions taken by fishers and industry players up and down the supply chain.

The steady progress towards sustainability in Peru’s fisheries has been driven by an interplay of diverse vested interests. It has required collective action up and down the nation’s supply chain. Socio-political factors are crucial to driving change.

Large buyers such as retailers, food service companies and major seafood brands (in Western Europe and North America) have undoubtedly played a vital role in driving sustainability by exerting pressure on suppliers.

This has contributed to the formation of CAPECAL. Its members focus on improving the jumbo flying squid and mahi-mahi fisheries, the two largest artisanal fisheries in Peru. However, market influence wanes the further up/down the supply chain you go.

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Peruvian fishers display a catch of mahi-mahi. Improvements in sustainability have been driven by collaboration, trust building and dialogue among all participants in the fishery.

CAPECAL represents over half of Peru’s export value in jumbo-flying squid. But even they can’t single-handedly drive change in Peru’s complex social and political context.

Over the last several years, we have learned that artisanal fishers, processing plants and intermediaries often operate in complex and opaque networks where end buyer sustainability demands may not effectively trickle down.

For example, over recent years, the priority for artisanal fishers has been to gain formal access to the jumbo-flying squid and mahi-mahi fisheries. This can also pave the way for fishers to move from the informal to the formal economy. But the legal framework for formalization was ambiguous. It included several loopholes and redundancies that created confusion for both fishers and the government officials tasked with processing formalization requests.

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Peruvian fishers unload their catch of mahi-mahi.

Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA) and SFP – both foundation partners – have supported both fishers and local governments in achieving these pivotal goals.

There are more than 3,400 vessels currently in the formalization pipeline. Remarkably, nearly 80% have now obtained official fishing permits giving them formal access to the resource. That’s a stark increase from under 3% when the strategy launched in 2021.

In addition to formality, traceability and transparency in seafood supply chains are crucial for ethical, sustainable consumption. Foundation partners like WWF are helping fishers and processors improve tracking by scaling up vessel monitoring systems and supply chain data apps.

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Peruvian fish processing workers hold a sign promoting a campaign for artisanal fishers to gain formal access to the nation's flying squid and mahi-mahi fisheries. The efforts have yielded strong gains in sustainability and the number of fishers awarded official licenses.

This allows tracing the origins of seafood and provides assurance it wasn't illegally sourced. Groups like ProDelphinus further assist fishers in minimizing bycatch of protected marine life like turtles and dolphins.

Although there is still much work to be done in Peru, the idea is that robust traceability ensures fish in the waters forever and consumers are eating responsible and sustainably sourced fish.

Another focus of our work is helping fishers gain financial literacy skills.

Through financial literacy courses run by WWF and Future of Fish Peru, fishers are gaining money management skills that are crucial for sustainable fisheries and communities. They help fishers make informed resource management decisions and improve long-term planning.

PECEPE squid processing in Peru
An employee at PECEPE's processing plant in Lurin, Peru holds up a jumbo flying squid. Squid caught in Peru are marketed across Europe, Asia and the United States.

Underpinning all of these strategies is a core focus on helping fishers build robust organizational capacities, while also broadly improving their understanding of fisheries sustainability and governance concepts.

SFP and SPDA helped fishers establish SONAPESCAL, the National Society of Artisanal Fishers. The organization represents six major fishing organizations that account for nearly 30% (around 1300 vessels) of the country's mahi-mahi and jumbo-flying squid operations.

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A Peruvian fisherman displays a jumbo flying squid for foundation Environment Program director Moira Mcdonald (lower left).

During our recent visit, a roundtable organized by SFP and SPDA allowed us to hear directly from key stakeholders.

Elsa Vega, president of SONAPESCAL, spoke about the importance of artisanal fishers finally having a seat at the decision-making table. Her sentiments were echoed by Alfonso Miranda, head of CALAMASUR, a regional industry initiative focused on sustainability for the jumbo-flying squid fishery. Miranda underscored the major advances in fishery management achieved through the cohesive participation of fishers, industry, and government at both national and international levels.

If we keep up this momentum, the fundamental changes occurring in these major fisheries could soon see fishers view themselves as small business owners. They would have access to the formal banking system and advocate with government officials to stop any further growth in fishing capacity that would add pressure to overfish and diminish their share of catches. That will help thousands of fishing families become more prosperous while also sustainably producing seafood from some of the world’s largest artisanal fisheries.

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