HomeNewsEcuador Illegal Fishermen Target Sardines, Anchovies Amid Fishmeal Boom

Ecuador Illegal Fishermen Target Sardines, Anchovies Amid Fishmeal Boom


Illegal fishing vessels off the coast of Ecuador are increasingly harvesting smaller marine species in response to rising global demand for fishmeal, risking significant environmental and economic disruption by targeting the lower levels of the food chain.

Ecuadorean authorities issued at least 44 alerts of unauthorized industrial fishing in the protected Cantagallo-Machalilla marine reserve, located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador's Manabí province, between late 2020 and early 2022, according to Mongabay.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Illegal Fishing

Most of the vessels involved were reportedly dedicated to catching small fish such as anchovies or sardines. These smaller fish are ground up to produce fishmeal, a dry powder used for animal feed and food for farmed fish.

The problem is not Ecuador's alone. In Peru, where millions of tons of anchovy are fished legally every year, 150,000 tons of Peruvian anchoveta were diverted in 2019 to produce fishmeal, according to a study by non-governmental organization Oceana. At least 62 fish processing facilities were involved in turning the illegal catch into fishmeal.

That same year, the US imported around $2.4 billion in illegally caught fish products, according to a report by the US International Trade Commission. That report estimated that 9% of all fishmeal in the United States came from illegal catch.

InSight Crime Analysis

The spread of illegal fishing targeting smaller species to produce fishmeal risks devastating consequences for the local environment and economy.

Overfishing small fish like anchovies and sardines has a domino effect on the maritime food chain. Larger fish -- like the giant stingrays and other species the Cantagallo-Machalilla reserve was created to protect -- rely on anchovies and sardines for food. Catching huge hauls of these smaller species for fishmeal endangers the very animals the reserve is meant to protect.

Fishmeal is one of Ecuador's fastest-growing economies, and the country is already among the world's top producers. Industry experts expect global demand for fishmeal to continue to grow in coming years, meaning the incentive to scoop up small fish illegally will likely also increase.

SEE ALSO: Loopholes Fuel Shark Fin Trade in Ecuador

Ecuadorean authorities have taken some steps to curb the practice. In 2020, the country ratified a law regarding the development of aquaculture and fisheries, stating that resources for human consumption cannot be used for processing fishmeal.

But enforcement has been lax. Of the 64 administrative proceedings reportedly opened to investigate alerts, only one has resulted in a sanction, according to figures from Peru's Ministry of Production quoted by Mongabay. Several vessels fishing in the Cantagallo-Machalilla reserve have been accused of repeat offenses but have faced no punishment.

"There is a lot of impunity," Cristina Cely, an environmental activist from Ecuador, told InSight Crime. "We know there are often reports of fishing vessels in these areas, and the authorities still do not conduct inspections. This means these activities will continue because those actors know they will not be penalized."

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


A recent wave of murders in the Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas provides clues to the role of dissident factions of…

BOLIVIA / 8 NOV 2022

Environmental crime is driving deforestation across the Amazon, where some parts are now emitting more carbon dioxide than they absorb.


Ecuador’s next president will face an unprecedented set of security challenges, as prison violence has soared to record levels, the…

About InSight Crime


Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…


World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…


InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…


Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…


‘Ndrangheta Investigation, Exclusive Interview With Suriname President Make Waves

2 DEC 2022

Two weeks ago, InSight Crime published an investigation into how Italian mafia clan the ‘Ndrangheta built a cocaine trafficking network from South America to ‘Ndrangheta-controlled Italian ports. The investigation generated…