Peru is bracing for a moderate El Nino weather event in coming months, with warming sea temperatures threatening to set the stage for another disastrous year for anchovy fishing and fishmeal exports.
Enfen, the Peruvian bureau tasked with forecasting el Nino, put policymakers on alert and said a "moderate" El Nino would likely emerge this year, government meteorologist Grinia Avalos said on Wednesday.
Avalos said weather conditions and unusually warm waters off Peru\’s Pacific Coast will likely be "very similar" or worse than in 2014, when the pattern prompted a crisis in local fishing.
Peru\’s El Nino forecast builds on similar warnings of the emergence of El Nino from Japan and Australia this week.
Kelvin waves, warm equatorial swells that signal El Nino, are already shoring up on Peru\’s coast, Avalos said.
Anchovy, cold-water fish used to make fishmeal, thrive in Peru\’s nutrient-rich Humboldt current and scatter when waters heat up. Peru is the world\’s biggest exporter of fishmeal, a protein-rich feed, producing about a third of global supply.
Fishermen in Peru caught about a third of the typical anchovy catch last year because of warmer seas – dragging down overall economic growth and squeezing fishmeal prices.
The government had expected anchovy catches to rise at least 30 percent this year before signs of El Nino started to emerge.
"Environmental conditions this year will possibly have the same or even greater impact" as last year, said Cecilia Pena, a biologist with the state research institute IMARPE. "But we still haven\’t seen significant impacts on anchovy."
Anchovy appear to be better prepared to survive warmer conditions this year, Pena said. They are now more abundant and the sea is teeming with nutrients.
About 55 percent of the anchovy quota for the first main fishing season, from April 9 to June 30, has already been caught, Pena said.
Last year Peru\’s second anchovy season was canceled after industrial vessels were only able to catch 68 percent of their quota in the first season.