FishWise in Peru: Tracking mahi mahi down the supply chain
In the top northwest corner of Peru sits a small, rural fishing community with an appetite for fishery improvements to meet export demands – a market that sustains their livelihood. This quaint community of fishers supports Peru’s mahi mahi and jumbo squid exports, providing high-value seafood products primarily to North America and Europe. Climbing aboard a mahi mahi fishing vessel docked on the shore of Islilla, FishWise had the opportunity to learn about one cooperative’s journey towards fishery improvements to meet increasing demands for traceability and sustainability assurances. With newly installed satellite beacons, a cell-phone enabled traceability application in hand, the smell of fresh paint, and a willing fisherman to tell us his stories – it was easy to feel the fishing pride held by this small community. This was one stop on a week-long journey to Peru to learn about the country’s traceability efforts and the various fishery solutions being created and implemented by our NGO friends, Future of Fish who are working in close partnership with WWF Peru, which launched the mahi mahi fisheries improvement project in 2013.
FishWise is known as a convener of seafood traceability experts and resources, working diligently with our business partners for over 15 years to implement traceability and counter-illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) practices to support transparent supply chains and sustainable fisheries. But from our desks in sunny Santa Cruz, CA it can be hard to understand how the technological or process improvements we advocate for shake out when companies implement them within their supply chains.
Fortunately, a research project launched in early 2019 has prompted the FishWise traceability team to hit the road, and learn directly from seafood importers, exporters, and suppliers upstream. We have been asking about their experiences adapting to the recent implementation of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), a U.S. government program that requires importers of certain seafood products, such as mahi mahi, to undertake additional reporting and recordkeeping in order to prevent (IUU)-caught and/or misrepresented seafood from entering the U.S. market. Capping off a year of data collection, this project led us to the primary source of the world’s mahi mahi production – Peru!
As small and quaint as the fishing village of Islilla may be, the fish caught by Islilla fishermen travel far and wide, making a global
splash. North of Islilla lies Paita, a neighboring fishing town with offloading capacity and a large port responsible for the majority of Peru’s mahi mahi and jumbo squid exports.
Paita is the northern hub for major fishery exports and houses one of Peru’s three major domestic seafood marketplaces, called ‘terminals’. Though we were mostly interested in the seafood export market and the impact SIMP has had on producer countries sending fish to the U.S., we were excited for the opportunity to explore the domestic market*. Arriving before dawn, it was shocking to see the number of people, products, and processing already taking place and in full swing. In Peru, traceability of domestic catch stops at these marketplaces, because they currently lack national systems and capacity to track a fish’s journey beyond the terminal.
The exported fish, however, continue their traceability journey beyond Paita as they’re iced and loaded onto container ships ready for export to North America or Europe. We had the opportunity to learn about how a producer country is impacted by increasing demands for supply chain transparency, including import requirements such as SIMP meant to deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) products from entering their supply chains. More data means more paperwork, which can be especially challenging for an industry that continues to collect and process this paperwork by hand.