Chile gets ready for El Niño

"El Niño will intensify in the spring months, projecting into early summer in the southern hemisphere," said National Director of Sernapesca, Soledad Tapia.
Fishing boats in the harbor at Antofagasta, the capital of one of the regions affected by the El Niño phenomenon for which Chile is getting ready. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Fishing boats in the harbor at Antofagasta, the capital of one of the regions affected by the El Niño phenomenon for which Chile is getting ready. Photo: Adobe Stock.

In view of the arrival of El Niño in the southern spring, Chile is getting ready for the possible adverse effects it may have on the country's fishing industry. In a preventive and proactive manner, the Chilean National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca) has initiated a series of coordination actions with various public agencies – at both, national and international levels – as well as with private companies to be ready for possible contingencies caused by this climatic phenomenon.

El Niño to intensify in spring months

"According to the Instituto de Fomento Pesquero (IFOP), based on the diagnostic panel of the National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the forecast models, El Niño will intensify in the spring months, projecting itself until the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere, which could generate, among others, that schools of fish move to other areas, or that due to lack of oxygen, pelagic species vary, and also that harmful algal blooms (HAB) originate. Among other things, this could cause schools of fish to move to other areas, or pelagic species to vary due to lack of oxygen, as well as harmful algal blooms (HAB), which in turn could cause massive mortality of fish and aquaculture resources," stated Soledad Tapia, National Director of Sernapesca.

El Niño corresponds to the warm phase of a global phenomenon of ocean-atmosphere interaction that occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean region; however, its consequences extend to other regions of the planet such as South America, including the coasts of Chile. The phenomenon causes ocean surface temperatures to be higher than normal, water currents are significantly reduced, and with them the supply of minerals to the layers where plankton live. As a consequence, the entire Pacific food chain is affected, and the availability of fish, crustaceans and mollusks decreases, causing a reduction in fishery yields.

As Soledad Tapia warned, during El Niño, fish move from one place to another in search of more suitable conditions for their survival, disappearing from some areas and appearing in new ones. At the same time, there are also massive mortalities due to strandings. This year, this climatic impact phenomenon began to manifest under the Equator in February, and since May its effects have been evident on the northern coast of Chile through changes in the spatial distribution of the anchovy resource.

The public and private sectors coordinate

Chile is not the only country that has seen its anchovy fishery affected by this phenomenon. After the cancellation of the first fishing season of 2023 in the North-Central zone of Peru, the aquaculture feed manufacturing companies had already indicated that the following season, in the second part of the year, would also be difficult there. "The coming season in Peru expected in November does not look good already due to El Niño, but we hope that an increase can be seen in April/May 2024," said then Therese Log Bergjord, Skretting CEO. Shortly thereafter, the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2023-2032 warned that, during El Niño years, South America will be the area that will mainly see reduced levels of wild catch.

With this perspective in mind, Sernapesca initiated a series of coordination activities with both public agencies and private companies so that Chile is prepared for possible contingencies due to the presence of the El Niño phenomenon. Those involved have started joint work that includes different activities such as documentary simulations or emergency plan drills. In addition, special emphasis will be placed on regions in the southern austral macro-zone, where awareness workshops will be held to make the community aware of this climatic phenomenon and the environmental impacts that it can bring.

"We have convened agencies of the Inter-institutional Committee on Environmental Contingencies that make up Subpesca, Superintendence of Environment, Ministry of Health, the Navy, the Ministry of Environment, and SENAPRED, among others, and we have also articulated a work of co-responsibility with private companies to adjust their procedures and contingency protocols," said the National Director of Sernapesca.

Changes in the Fisheries Law

In fact, at the end of last month, Chile's Undersecretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Subpesca) already issued a resolution establishing that the regions of Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá and Antofagasta – in the north of the country, on the border with Peru – face a condition of fishing anomaly. The objective of the measure was the regional governments can channel resources to solve the problems that artisanal fishermen are facing as a consequence of the El Niño current and its effects.

Some days later, in a panel on the phenomenon and its probable effects on the main Chilean fisheries in the northern macro zone, Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Julio Salas, announced that the draft of the new Fisheries Law considers more solid instruments to react to situations of this kind. "This is an important modification of the Fishing Law, which is already included in the drafting of the new project, because this type of anomalies, which occurs cyclically, cannot catch us governments by surprise every time," he claimed.

"We are facing a problem of great magnitude and we greatly miss that the fishing sector has the tools and instruments that other economic activities have to respond to this type of climatic conjuncture," he continued. "This is another example of the weakness of the fisheries and aquaculture regulations. For this reason, providing the fishing institutions with tools and instruments to face anomalous situations resulting from climatic changes is considered as a norm within the draft of the new Fishing Law," Salas concluded.

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