A rising force?

08 May 2014
Fish consumption is on the up in Argentina alongside a rise in exports, which is good news for the country’s domestic fleet

Fish consumption is on the up in Argentina alongside a rise in exports, which is good news for the country’s domestic fleet

Argentina’s fishing industry is on the up, with exports on the increase again. Adrian Tatum reports on a country that won’t leave anything to chance.

There is no doubt the Argentinean fishing industry has, at times, failed to develop as much as it would have liked. But while it has struggled to emerge from the shadows of the country’s successful beef industry and its neighbour Chile’s successful fishing industry, it has worked hard in the past few years to work on its reputation and remains a powerful force.

This has been highlighted by a recent agreement between ministers in Argentina that will focus government efforts on delivering a more competitive fishing sector. It brings in a new set out goals to reach new markets, improve the labour conditions and improve fuel delivery logistics for the fisheries sector.

Government concerns have emerged following a 12% catch decline for the port of Mar del Plata. This equates to a drop in tonnage from over 63,000 tons in 2011 to 50,000 last year. In order to reverse the 2012 trend trade officials are looking to Asia as a potential export destination that will boost the industry. Businesses have been struggling in Argentina due to bankruptcy across several important Spanish companies operating in the country.

The government has pledged to work across all departments in the coming weeks to address issues in crayfish labour shortages and broader fisheries policy. 

Vale and volume
After a few years of decline, 2013 gave plenty to talk about. Argentina fisheries exports reached $1.5 billion in 2013, representing an 11.3% increase in value and 14.9% in volume compared to 2012, according to Argentinean private consultant Investigaciones Economicas Sectoriales, (IES).

As expected, squid played a leading role in this recovery by doubling catches in 2013 on what was an extended season. It was a season which saw both an increase in catches and consistency and stability for the fishing sector. And there are some surprise facts to emerge. Fisheries exports are now more significant than beef (19% higher in value), and fish per capita consumption in Argentina climbed 20.6% to 9 kilograms.

During 2013 total catches reached 821,400 metric tons, up 18.7% over 2012, reversing the 5.6% fall recorded in 2012 over the previous year. Of the total catches, 63.2% were classified as fish with 518,900t, with a year-on-year expansion of 2.4%, mainly down to greater landings of hake.

Molluscs represented 24.1% (197,900t) with a year-on-year jump of 96.6%, supported by the doubling of squid catches (up 101%), and partly thanks to the extension of the season beyond its usual timeframe. Crustaceans represented 12.7% of catches, with a total of 104,600t, equivalent to a 23.8% increase driven by the expansion of shrimp catches (25.8% and 100,500t), slightly countered by the drop of other species.

Argentina’s consumption of fish and seafood, via sales in the domestic market plus imports, in 2013 reached 362,500t, up 20.6% year-on-year, which helped compensate the 6.7% drop for the whole of 2012.

The main destination of Argentine fisheries exports last year, as in the previous year, was Spain, with $420 million or 28.1% of the total.

Assessment
But the country doesn’t want to export without the best reputation and working with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to get its fisheries assessed. Last year saw the Argentine Patagonian toothfish fishery operating in Argentine Federal Continental Shelf waters entering into full MSC assessment.

Patagonian toothfish from Argentina is one of the most highly-value species in the world and is primarily exported to the United States, Japan, and European Union.

Four companies make up the client group under assessment: Estremar S.A., Pesantar S.A., Argenova S.A., and San Arawa S.A. These companies have seven vessels altogether and are assigned the entire TAC for this species in the Argentine Sea. The method of catch is bottom trawl, bottom longline, and trap. Fishing takes place year-round and the TAC was set at 3,500 tons in 2012. A client group spokesman said he was "confident the excellent management of the resource" as proof of the sustainability of the Patagonian fishery. As WF&A went to press, a final decision was still to be made.

This follows on from the success of Argentinean hake over the past few years. It is being constantly assessed under the Fisheries Improvement Project, part of the global Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. Having reached stage four, recommendations at the moment include; Implementing a recovery plan, improving transparency on records, improving the robustness of Argentina’s fisheries science and increasing reproductive biomass above limit reference point (including reducing bycatch). But back in 2007 when the programme started it was a very different story.

Argentine hake is a bottom-trawling fishery, which produces around 200,000 tonnes, making it one of the most important hake fisheries in the world. It is an export-oriented fishery, with primary markets in Brazil (23%), Spain (13%), Italy (11%), the US (6%), and Ukraine (6%). But the fishery faced significant problems. Stock was below its biological limit and spawning stock biomass was under the target reference point, the actual catch was over the advised total allowable catch (TAC) and fishermen were landing more juveniles than adults and refused to use devices that would let juveniles escape the trawl nets. Bycatch of juvenile hake by the Argentine shrimp fishery resulted in 30,000 to 40,0000 tonnes of discard each year. There was neither a recovery plan in place to deal with these issues nor any effective monitoring and enforcement of regulations.

SFP is collaborating on this FIP with CeDePesca, a South American NGO whose mission is to work toward socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable fisheries. CeDePesca has been involved with the Argentine hake fishery for over 10 years.

An MSC pre-assessment was completed in 2008 and since then, private companies have worked with CeDePesca on improvement efforts. However, the fishery still faces great difficulties and corruption within the control system remains one of the major barriers to achieving sustainability.

The main strength of this fishery is a huge and well-enforced non-trawling zone, covering almost half of the fishing grounds, protecting breeding and feeding. The enforcement of EU Rule 1005/2008 against IUU has helped to reduce underreporting, although some problems persist, particularly in regard to the internal market information.

As of January 2011, an onboard video cameras system was made mandatory, although full implementation was delayed by authorities.

Although 2011 surveys registered some increase in spawning biomass, it is still under its limit reference point (450,000 tonnes). Managers set non-precautionary TACs for 2010, 2011, and 2012, assuming in all cases the most optimistic scenario. Research cruises restarted in 2011 after three years of inactivity from 2008 through 2010.

Transparency of stock assessments and fisheries statistics has improved, with up-to-date landings information on the Undersecretariat of Fisheries website. An external peer review was completed by FAO in May 2012. The call for a Recovery Plan for hake, with clear targets and timetables, was reiterated in a letter sent in September 2012 to the Federal Fisheries Council and the fisheries has made rapid development since.

Assessments are there to avoid situations that have not only happened with hake before but also with another of the country’s popular squid fisheries. In 2011 levels of the Illex argentinus variety of squid fell dangerously low. This followed a argument in the Argentinean fishing sector over what authorities and conservationists called indiscriminate fishing of existing stock of marine food resources in Argentine waters and beyond, mostly in zones operated by vessels from the industry.

Critics blamed lack of good governance and transparency in the business of maintaining a balance between renewable fish stock and the crews operating in those areas for maximum profit.

The limited presence of squid at mile 2010, outside Argentina’s EEZ, is of concern to the local squid jigger fleet, industry sources said. Fishing crews fear that something similar might happen in national waters. In 2010, fishing vessels near the eastern limit of the EEZ caught just two tons a day of squid and that catch was dominated by small squids.

This happened alongside Argentina campaigning for its sovereignty over the British-ruled Falkland Islands and has taken measures at sea to discourage shipping and trade involving the Falklands.

Improving relations
But relations with other nations are improving. This year has seen relations with China being strengthened. A recent seminar in China saw over 150 representatives from both countries talking under the Chinese-Argentinean fisheries cooperation as part of the Chinese Overseas Fisheries Association.

China aims to improve knowledge of the laws in force in Argentina for the marine fisheries sector and aquaculture developments.

The programme included presentations on the areas and ways of fishing in Argentinean waters, the main species caught, the regulatory framework for marine fisheries, federal management in the fisheries affairs, the management of the major fisheries of interest to China (squid, shrimp and white croaker) and the regulatory framework for aquaculture in Argentina.

According to the data provided by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC), last year Argentinean fisheries exports to China grew by 77% in value and 79% in volume compared to 2012.

About 67,940 tonnes of seafood were sent to the Chinese market for USD 137.45 million, mainly shrimp (USD 70.8 million), squid (USD 43 million), fishmeal (USD 3.26 million), frozen fish (USD 18 million) and fillets (USD 866,000).

The Federal Fisheries Council is also set to begin a commercial assessment of Argentinean sea bass to determine the existence of commercial returns for the fishery.

Investment
There are also interesting developments in the seafood sector as the country aims to invest at a number of levels to see improvements. Just last month saw the Argentinean government working on a plan that could see the export of live oysters to the popular European market. Representatives of the National Health Service and Food Quality (SENASA), the Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Nation and the Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Agricultural Affairs have been working together with the municipality of El Carmen and oyster growers associations, to provide regulatory and technical compliance capable of achieving the export of live oysters and pulp to the EU market. Among the issues discussed at the meeting included: training for producers, conditioners, transporters and inspectors, quality and safety requirements that ensure traceability of products exported and the packaging and marketing logistics.

Another issue considered was the analytical capacity of the laboratories of the Official Network of SENASA, whose analysis techniques must meet the protocols required by European legislation. Bahía San Blas, located in the district of El Carmen, is the main oyster producer in the country. The opening of the European market would be an important contribution to strengthening the regional economy.

But for the economy to grow as a result of the fisheries and seafood sector, investment in infrastructure and resources must also continue. Last year a new fish processing plant was opened in the Chaco town of Puerto Las Palmas. The plant was built with the latest technology, following the recommendations of Senasa professionals, the Ministry of Industry and the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) and operates with a specific cooling system for the production of pacu. Alongside this there have been a number of training programmes developed in the country aimed at improving knowledge and health and safety in the seafood sector. Most recently, the Directorate of Aquaculture has conducted a workshop ‘Best Practices and Classification of Shellfish Production Areas’ for training in the extraction and growing of shellfish. The training was held at the National University Comahue and attended by provincial officials, municipal, fishermen and traders of these products. Topics covered included standards to be met, the requirements of external markets for Argentinian products and the problems associated with harmful algal blooms. Specifically, the training looked at the control of HAB’s, characterisation of toxins and the threat these toxins can have to public health.