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Shopping for fish and seafood in Latin America can be rewarding.

Shopping for Fish and Seafood In Latin America Can Be Rewarding

Everybody knows about Chile's salmon production prowess and prolific farm-raised Ecuadorian shrimp. But how about mahi mahi prospects in Colombia and langostinos from Nicaragua?

Despite political unrest and climatic problems, there's some good news to report about the fish and seafood industry along the Pacific Rim of Latin America, Sief van Eys, director of INFOPESCA, told Sea Fare International delegates in Long Beach, California.

To nobody's surprise, Chile has the best developed fish and seafood industry. But there are positive developments where one might least expect them -- as in Colombia, which is trying to get away from its image as a country with nothing to export but drugs and coffee.

Colombia already has the third largest tuna fleet in Latin America, van Eys said, and it has excellent resources of snapper, croaker, catfish and perhaps even mahi mahi. Acquaculture has shown good levels of production so far in shrimp and trout, although more know-how is needed for hatcheries.

The greatest problem for Colombia is the lack of an infrastructure of port, storage and processing facilities along the Pacific coast -- Baranquilla is where it's at. But the country is now open to capital investment, with foreign companies able to repatriate profits and even take part in export bonus programs. A Fisheries Institute was set up recently to advise on development. One restriction: processing facilities must be set up onshore; Colombia doesn't want factory ships. And part of the catch -- but only a small part -- must be sold locally.


Mexico, the most populous Latin American country facing the Pacific, is struggling to get out from under a state fish and seafood industry that is mired in debt and inefficiency. Government loans to cooperatives have gone sour, and the government bank that made them has gone into liquidation. Government aid to the industry has been cut by 60% under a new austerity program, but the government is still targeting four areas for investment: acquaculture, sardine canning, tuna canning and finfish production.

Some 70,000 tons of fish and seafood a year are already farmed -- largely carp. While some 70,000 hectares of brackish water have been identified as suitable for shrimp farms, only 10,000 have been put into production, van Eys said, and they have produced a measly 3,500 tons a year. Some 40,000 tons of oysters a year are farmed, but they are all consumed locally. At least $300 million in capital investment is needed for shrimp acquaculture, and chances are that it will have to come from abroad.

Wild shrimp capture is poorly organized, with an oversize fleet of 2,000 vessels -- the sheer number of vessels has been all that has kept up the catch, in face of diminishing returns due to excessive exploitation and climatic changes. But finfish production of 175,000 tons for 1989 was 12% ahead of the previous year. Overall catch -- excluding pelagic fish -- has remained static at around 850,000 tons a year, van Eys said.

There wasn't much he could say about Central America, even though INFOPESCA is based in Panama. A narrow Continental shelf, combined with political and climatic problems, has kept production down. Biomass of pelagic fish is probably only 700,000 tons for the whole region (50% of that in Panama), and 375,000 tons for demersal fish (25% in Panama, 50% in Nicaragua), 200,000 tons for langostinos (70% in Nicaragua) and 50,000 tons for squid (70% in Panama). About the only good news is that a decade of political strife in Nicaragua allowed resources to build up after generations of over-fishing. Costa Rica is developing tilapia and shrimp aquaculture on a modest scale, but other countries suffer from primitive fleets and facilities of all kinds.


Ecuador, as everyone knows, has developed shrimp farming on a large scale -- only to run into problems of disease and lack of knowhow. Poor rains contributed to the problem last year; there was less water to flush the coastal shrimp ponds. The finfish catch, which hit 500,000 tons in 1989, reportedly dropped sharply last year, van Eys said. As if the weather and other problems weren't enough, the government hems in shrimp farmers and fishing and processing companies alike with a maze of regulations and excessive taxes, discouraging the kind of capital investment that could produce economies of scale. At least there are decent facilities all along the coast to deliver sea trout, hake and other species, and there seems to be a good future for finfish -- but shrimp will remain the mainstay of the industry.


The bureaucracy's even worse in Peru, where it takes four or five different certificates from different agencies (reportedly accompanied by bribes in many cases) to export anything. Fishery resources have been poorly developed, although some shrimp farming has developed in the north, next to Ecuador. Fish meal is the main industry, and poor quality canned fish are sold strictly on price. Things may improve under the new administration of Alberto Fujimori, who was elected last year -- but a whole new set of laws is being introduced, and it will take a while for exporters to comply with them.


Deep-sea kingclip, far more abundant than in-shore stocks, could be the next major resource to be exploited by Chile, where the business climate has been good for decades. Unlike Ecuador and Peru, Chile tries to make it easy for exporters -- it has even struck a deal with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to have products inspected and cleared for export within three or four hours. Salmon acquaculture is booming, and trout, scallops, mussels and oysters are also being farmed. Factory vessels are busy harvesting fish for the Japanese market (which also buys a lot of squid), and if exporters have any problem with North America, they tell van Eys, it's finding a reliable importer.

|Menu Currents' Can Keep Restaurants in the Swim

Don't just put fish on the menu, menu the fish! That's what Fishery Products International, Danvers, Mass., USA, is telling foodservice operators.

Its Menu Currents promotional program includes not only seafood recipes, but new ideas in menu merchandising, information on current seafood trends, and training tips for waiters.

PHOTO : Latin American suppliers are becoming a greater source for seafood, says Sief van Eys of INFOPESCA.

PHOTO : Fishery Products serves up recipes.
COPYRIGHT 1991 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:QFFI's Global Seafood Magazine
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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