Artisanal fishing communities and COVID-19 in Piura

The Peruvian sea has a great variety of hydrobiological resources due to the outcrop and the convergence of the Humbolt current and the El Niño current along the coastal strip (Galarza & Kámiche, 2015). The historical tradition of artisanal fishermen plays an important role in the country’s economy since they contribute more than 80% of fresh fish consumed by all Peruvians. The region concentrates the greatest activity and population of artisanal fishermen is Piura (Palacios, 2016)

Piura is located in the northwest of Peru, it has an area of 35,892 km2 and is politically divided into 8 provinces and 64 districts, 3 of which are coastal. These are Talara, Paita and Sechura (Figure 1). On the Piura coast, the main economic activity is fishing, both artisanal and industrial, followed by oil-related activities in the province of Talara.

Figure 1. Piura map showing the twelve communities

The research project I am working on has the purpose of analysing the impact of covid-19 in the artisanal fishing communities of this region. For this reason, we have 12 resident monitors, each one in a different community, distributed along the coast of Piura (Figure 1). The information gathering phase began in February of this year, for when they were provided with personal protection implements for field trips as long as they were necessary. Additionally, they were given a Tablet and training was carried out for the use of the instrument used to collect information (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Training meeting in Paita province.

Every week the twelve monitors report information to us about health, fisheries, socio – economy and education of each of the communities. The collection of information is carried out through personal interviews with nurses, the president of Guild fishermen, administrative personnel of the landing site, artisanal fishermen, community leaders, etc. (Figure 3); these were initially carried out in person and are currently carried out by telephone calls, social networks and radio.

Figure 3. Personal interview of the monitor of Puerto Nuevo (Paita). Photo by Rosmery Vite

Fisheries description

  1. Talara Province

The fishing community of Máncora has more than 126 artisanal fishing vessels. It is characterized by landing yellowfin tuna throughout the year (Figure 4). Much of the catch is exported to Ecuador, as well as other species such as swordfish, sharks, hake, conger eel, mahi mahi, móbula rays, etc. In Los Órganos, the predominant fishing gear is the curtain net in vessels with an average hold capacity of 5 tons and approximately 4 crew members on board that operate all year round. The most caught species are mainly hake, Peruvian rock seabass, Peruvian weakfish, hemanthias signifier, and to a lesser extent Eastern Pacific bonito and skipjack tuna. A smaller proportion of vessels of similar dimensions use handline and bottom set longline to fish the same diversity of species. In general, the fishing operations occur daily.

Figure 4. Yellowfin tuna landed in Máncora

On the other hand, El Ñuro has small vessels with capacities ranging between 3 and 7 tons, employing between 2 and 4 crew members on board. The predominant fishing gear is handline and the main landing species are hake, Peruvian rock seabass, hemanthias signifier, bighead tilefish, tuna and eastern Pacific bonito. Hake fishing is carried out most of the year, using bottom spinning lines of approximately 200 hooks. Fishing operations occur daily and are carried out between 5 and 7 miles from the shore. Tuna and eastern Pacific bonito are caught using the trolling method for two short seasons a year. For this, they usually move to more remote fishing areas at distances greater than 10 nautical miles from the coast. The tasks can last 2 or more days.

The Cabo Blanco fishing community employs around 200 artisanal sailboats that mainly catch: eastern Pacific bonito, tuna, skipjack tuna, Peruvian rock seabass, billfish such as blue marlin, among others (Figure 5). Fewer vessels resort to using seine nets to fish for mackerel, eastern Pacific bonito, Peruvian moonfish, pacific harvestfish, mullet, Peruvian weakfish, etc. and others with curtain nets in the background.

The community of Talara, has an artisanal fishing dock and is also a large port due to oil activity. The artisanal fishing vessels that operate use the handline, the purse seine and the spinel. The main species caught are whitetail, mackerel, eastern Pacific bonito and squid.

Figure 5. Landing of mullet and Peruvian rock seabass in Cabo Blanco. Photo by Sara Tume
  1. Paita Province

Paita is one of the most important ports in the region and in Peru. It has several associations of artisanal fishermen; one of them is Puerto Nuevo, a small community located southwest of Paita, where the fishery is carried in small 6 meters’ boats. Their main fishing gear is the handline to catch giant squid, followed by the spinel, curtain net, handline and trawl; throughout the year the main species caught are the squid, parakeet, Peruvian weakfish, mullet, etc. (Figure 6)

Figure 6. Giant squid washing in El Ñuro. Photo by Josefa Ruiz

Of the communities of Yacila, La Islilla and La Tortuga located south of Paita, only Yacila has a dock infrastructure that is still unfinished, the other two do not have a dock so they use rafts, made of wooden logs, and small vessels. Their main fishing gear is the handline (Figure 7). They catch small volumes of species such as squid, Peruvian rock seabass, flathead gray mullet, Peruvian banded croaker, eastern Pacific bonito, etc. It is worth mentioning that part of the inhabitants’ boats belongs to offshore fleets dedicated to mahi mahi with spinel and giant squid. This fleet uses handline to catch giant squid. It is made up of around 450 vessels of 10 to 30 tons of capacity, which go out to fish in oceanic waters, between 50 and 300 nautical miles from the coast and disembark in the port of Paita.

Figure 7. Rafts in Yacila. Photo by Hilda Temoche
  1. Sechura Province

The province of Sechura is characterized by having a bay that allows scallop mariculture (Figure 8). The community of Sechura includes the coves of Constante, Matacaballo, Chuyillachi and Las Delicias. From the first cove mentioned, the main fishery is the one that uses trawl nets and target species is shrimp and other commercial species such as reed, sand-perch, Pacific harvestfish, Peruvian moonfish, Peruvian banded croaker and Peruvian weakfish. In Matacaballo, the community uses curtain nets and paints to capture Peruvian rock seabass, Peruvian weakfish and Peruvian banded croaker. The cove of Chuyillachi develops the traditional fishery aboard wooden rafts using handline and curtain nets, the main species caught are Peruvian rock seabass, mackerel, Peruvian weakfish and Peruvian banded croaker. In Las Delicias and Constante there is a significant amount of vessels that use purse seines to catch mackerel, eastern Pacific bonito and other pelagic fish.

On the other hand, in Constante, Matacaballo and Chuyillachi the landing is on the beach. However, in Matacaballo, artisanal boats do not use the dock and a landing stage has recently been built for the unloading of fan shells. In Las Delicias there is a public fishing dock that is currently used by fishing companies to land eel and other resources for processing and export. In addition, there is the private Juan Pablo Multipurpose Fishing Landing stage, which provides services for unloading scallops, landing, processing, transportation, and dry dock to small-scale artisanal vessels.

Figure 8. Landing of peruvian scallop in Sechura. Photo by Ruth Morales

In the community of Parachique there are three major fisheries with distinct methods. The first entails diving with a compressor for the extraction of invertebrates in Sechura Bay, mainly black snail, scallop shell, octopus, and rock fish. For this, small boats made of wood or fiberglass are used. The second is the squid fishery and the third is the purse seine fishery for the capture of eastern pacific bonito, mackerel and other pelagic species for human consumption (Figure 9). It is worth mentioning that Parachique has an artisanal fishing landing (DPA), which is currently operational and enabled the unloading of scallops.

Figure 9. Place of landing in Parachique. Photo by Aury Vegas

In the fisheries of Puerto Rico, one of the main techniques is diving and the others are with a handlines to catch giant squid and seine net to extract eastern Pacific bonito, mackerel and other pelagic species for direct human consumption. In Puerto Rico there is no public infrastructure to disembark, these operations are currently carried out on 2 “platforms” built by the merchants and fishermen themselves for this purpose (Figure 10).

Figure 10. View of artisanal vessels and trucks in Puerto Rico-Bayóvar. Photo by Keren Mendoza

What the whole world is going through as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has left many human and economic losses. In turn, it has forced the population to adapt to the virtual space. In this context, at the beginning of this year, the Covid-19 cases had decreased considerably throughout the country; even travel and tourism were enabled. In Piura region all the beaches were opened. However, a new variant of the covid-19 virus appeared and began to spread through the regions causing a new increase in cases. The fishing communities of Piura were affected by the collapse of the medical centres and hospitals, on the one hand, due to the lack of specialized service to treat infected patients in the precarious medical posts of small communities (Figure 12). This is why many people chose to leave their communities to seek help in the hospitals of the city of Piura, Talara and Sechura. On the other hand, because the population does not abide by the government regulations to control infections. Since many of them continue to go about their normal lives, do not use masks, nor do they use face shields. They concentrate at parties, ignorant of the fact that this would generate a collapse in hospitals mainly due to lack of oxygen. At the beginning of the year, only one oxygen plant supplied oxygen daily in the COVID isolation centre of El Alto (community near Cabo Blanco). Then a plant in Paita that supplies oxygen 3 times a week opened and in April an oxygen plant began to be set up in Sechura due to a disproportionate increase in covid-19 cases.

The communities with the highest numbers of covid-19 cases are Máncora, Cabo Blanco, Talara, Puerto Nuevo and Sechura, which have since then slightly decreased. The communities that have remained almost intact are the community of El Ñuro, due to the fact that the community did not allow outsiders in order to avoid contagion. La Tortuga community also experienced very few cases.

In 2020, the commercialization of hydrobiological resources was compromised due to the closure of borders and regional immobilization that caused great economic losses. This is due to the fact that fishermen had to limit themselves to catching fish only for local sale and self-consumption.

This year, the fishing activities have been re-established, although there is still a limited capacity of personnel in artisanal fishing landing sites but regional and international marketing has been reactivated.

The artisanal fishing communities of Piura play a very important role in the country’s food and economy due to the wide variety of hydrobiological resources that are marketed and the number of fishers who make a living from them. However, the local fishing activities are not prepared for this situation because many of them have a precarious health system accompanied by a lack of awareness on the part of habitants, making this a vulnerable sector.

Despite all this and the fact that the government often forgets the communities that are further away from the city, the residents of the communities are united and always support each other to get ahead.

Figure 11. Vessels of Talara. Photo by Mercedes Fernández
Figure 12. Medical post “Class Parachique”. Photo by Aury Vegas

This blog was written by: Jhenifer Fernández (1) , Maya Gomez-Coultas(2) and Gabriel Bonnamy (2)

(1) La Molina National Agrarian University – Perú, Lima / (2) St. Andrews University- -UK, Scotland

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