Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


January 2001


Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture


Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación


Land Area:

2 779 741 km²

Continental shelf (up to 200 m):

769 400 km²
1 164 500 km²

Length of Coastline (excludes the oceanic islands):

4 989 km

Population (1999):

36 577 000

Gross Domestic Product (1998):

US$ 298 131 millions

Agriculture GDP (1998):

US$ 15 275 millions

GDP per caput (1998):

US$ 8 252


Commodity Balance (1999):





Total Supply

Per Caput Supply


Tonnes liveweight equivalent


Fish for direct human consumption






Fish for animal feed and other purposes1






* Estimated

Estimated Employment (1998):


(i) Primary sector:

8 600

(ii) Secondary sector:

12 000



Gross value of the fishing production (1999) (nominal value of the estimated landings):

US$ 500 millions  

Trade (1999):


Value of imports:

US$ 88,4 millions

Value of exports:

US$ 807 millions


General aspects

Argentina is characterized for being a coastal country with a large continental shelf and an extensive marine coast over the South Atlantic Ocean, with important fishing resources of great accessibility. It has a significant industrial extraction and processing structure, with a strong dependence on the external market for what concerns the commercialization of its fishing products.
The Argentinean fishing activity has experienced important structural changes in the last decades as a consequence of the modifications in the relative participation of the different species exploited in the catches and in the composition of the operating fleet.
The main fishing resource, Southwest Atlantic hake (Merluccius hubbsi), has been intensively exploited in the last decade and is now in a serious risk of collapsing, with scarce possibilities, for the fishing fleet, to be oriented to other alternative species for its smaller abundance.

Marine fisheries

As a consequence of the amplitude of the Argentinean continental shelf, which occupies almost all the EEZ, the demersal species have good conditions for its development. However, it is possible to access to important concentrations of pelagic fishes, located mainly in the zone of Río de la Plata.
The Southwest Atlantic hake (Merluccius hubbsi) is the species that has traditionally registered the highest volume of catches although it is now risking the collapse, with a high overcapacity of the fleet (with a catch capacity around one million and three hundred thousand tons while the TAC was never superior to 400 thousand tons in the last decade). There are other important demersal fishes like the Patagonian grenadier, the Southern blue whiting and the pollack for the deep-sea fleet, as well as the squid and the red shrimp. However, their abundance is not enough to maintain the present catch capacity operative.

The marine fishing fleet can be divided in three main categories: the coastal one, the traditional deep sea and that of the processing vessels (freezing and factories), each one of them with particular characteristics under the technological point of view, of the exploited species, of the fishing areas and of the enterprise and workers ways of organization.

The coastal fleet is composed by two main categories: the artisanal-type boats and the mid water small boats. The first one, also called of bay or cove, is composed by small vessels with a mean length of 10 to 15 meters, with compartments and internal engine, with a hold capacity of 4 to 14 tons, without freezing equipment and with a limited autonomy. They are not technologically updated and they are, in general, old. The main species exploited by these vessels are Southwest Atlantic hake (in Patagonia), Atlantic mackerel, pez palo, Patagonian smoothhound, common sole, rayas pescadilla, argentine anchovy, smoothback angelshark, dusky grouper and cornalito. 138 vessels operated in 1999, used different fishing gears and operated mainly in the harbours of Mar del Plata, Necochea, San Antonio Oeste, Caleta Córdova, Camarones and Rawson. The enterprise organization is artisanal or familiar type.

The mid water fleet presents a more advanced technological level than the previous one, has a mean size between 15 and 25 meters of length with a hold refrigerating capacity of 18 to 40 tons. In general, they use gears like trawl or purseseine, and exploit species like Southwest Atlantic hake, pescadilla, meagre, Patagonian smoothhound, pez palo, common sole, skates, dusky grouper, argentine anchovy and Atlantic mackerel. 148 vessels operated in 1999, mainly from the harbours of Mar del Plata, Comodoro Rivadavia, Rawson, San Antonio Oeste, Caleta Olivia and Camarones.

The traditional deep sea fleet (ice trawlers) is composed by trawlers with a length of 25 to 63 meters, with refrigerated holds, navigation and detection equipment; they all use trawl nets and provide the refrigerated fish to the factories that process it in land. They are, in their majority, operated by enterprises that have industrial installations mainly located in Mar del Plata, Comodoro Rivadavia, Puerto Madryn, San Antonio Oeste, Caleta Córdova and San Antonio Este, where they have their main harbours. The 108 vessels of this category which operated in1999 caught mainly Southwest Atlantic hake and Patagonian grenadier (hoki), being also important the landings of pollack, argentine anchovy, Atlantic mackerel, skates, Patagonian smoothhound, squids, pescadilla, dusky grouper, drift fish, common sole, Atlantic salmon, pez palo and corvina blanca.

The freezing processing fleet with the national flag, composed by 187 operating vessels in 1999, is divided in two great groups: factory vessels with more than 100 mts of length and freezing vessels with lengths between 30 and 70 mts. The processing fleet can be divided according to the fishing system used and the process used on board, in five sub-categories: trawlers (freezer trawlers), shrimpers, longliners, jiggers and surimi.

The freezer trawlers operating were 68 in 1999 (including three vessels specialized in scallops fishing and processing). Besides, other 13 freezer trawlers, which were not included in the mentioned total, operated during part of the year as shrimpers and 2 more, operated as longliners. In 1999 they caught mainly Southwest Atlantic hake Patagonian grenadier (hoki), squids, pollack, bacalao austral, skates, guarnards, roundnose grenadier, Southern blue whiting, snooks, merluza negra and Patagonian hake, operating mainly from the harbours of Madryn, Deseado, Mar del Plata, Necochea, Ushuaia and Bahía Blanca.

The shrimpers are trawlers exclusively dedicated to the red shrimp fishery with 2 parallel nets; the by catch has significant amounts of Southwest Atlantic hake and other species near the coast, which, in its majority, are discharged. 48 shrimpers operated in 1999, to which can be added other 13 freezer trawlers which temporarily caught red shrimp with this fishing gear. The shrimpers operate from the harbours of Deseado, Madryn, Caleta Olivia and Comodoro Rivadavia.

The longliners are dedicated to the bottom species fisheries of high commercial value, such as merluza negra, pollack and roundnose grenadier and mainly operate from Ushuaia, Puerto Deseado and Bahía Blanca. 7 longliners operated in 1999 and other two freezer trawlers also used this fishing gear.

The jiggers make a very selective fishing, catching exclusively squids, 49 jiggers with the national flag operated in 1999 and 57 jiggers rented by national enterprises, operating from the harbours of Madryn, Punta Quilla, Mar del Plata, Deseado, Caleta Olivia, Necochea and Comodoro Rivadavia.

The factory vessels which process surimi operate exclusively from Ushuaia and catch mainly Southern blue whiting and also Patagonian grenadier and in smaller quantities Patagonian hake and merluza negra, processing these last species in fillets or eviscerated, without head and frozen.

The factory vessels, included between the freezer trawlers and the surimi have great dimensions, some have more than 100 meters of length and 4 000 HP of potency, with refrigerated holds to store up to 2 000 tons in the bigger units, they take a crew up to 90 persons, have the most sophisticated navigation and detection equipment, and are dedicated to the trawl fisheries and the processing of frozen products and fish meal as a complement.

Despite the above mentioned numbers of operating vessels, a bigger number of vessels had licences, as can be observed in the following table:

Bay or cove:


Mid-water coastal vessels:


Mid-water refrigerator vessels:


Freezing and factory vessels:




Freezing and factory vessels:




Scallops vessels:


National jiggers:






Surimi vessels:




Continental fisheries

The continental fishing activity is artisanal and mainly done in the hydrographic Bay of del Río de la Plata and in the lagoon areas.

The greatest activity takes place in the rivers Paraná, Uruguay, Paraguay and de la Plata, being the main landing harbours: Rosario, Victoria, Diamante, Santa Fe, Corrientes, and Berisso.

The most important species exploited in the fluvial zones are the allis shad, the surubí, the patí, the sand smelt, the armado and the bogue, among others, while in the lakes area the species caught is the sand smelt.

For what concerns the sportive fisheries, the main species caught are the surubí and the pompano dolphinfish in the river Paraná and the rainbow trout in the south rivers and lakes.


The development level of the aquaculture in Argentina is still low, having increased the estimated production from 450 tons in 1990 to 1.200 tons in 1999. The main activity is the rainbow trout culture, which represents about 95 per cent of all cultures. Other cultures are also relevant like the freshwater shrimp culture (about 22 tons in 1998), followed by other productions like Australian spiny lobster (10 tons), tilapia nilótica (10 tons), pacú and sea mussels. Between 1984 and 1991 the production was mainly artisanal, especially in the south of the country, dedicated to the rainbow trout. Later on, when the weir of Alicurá was opened (over the river Limay) the production increased quickly, having this type of culture a high quality and being made in cages.

In the last years, the national authorities of the aquaculture sector observed some important facts in the aquaculture sector, among them, that the small and medium enterprises dedicated to the trout culture seem to be consolidated in the internal market and one of them in the external market; the new culture products like freshwater shrimps and lobsters, are now available in super markets and restaurants, tilapia in the local "formoseno" market, pacú in the regional market near the production area, the distribution in the market of the first catch (2,5 t) of ostra cóncava from artisanal cultures in the South Atlantic, small productions of seamussels and the start of a new enterprise in 1999 producing tilapia seeds from the import of specimens of a genetic line from Israel.

Most of the products are destined to the internal market, mainly in the areas close to the production zone, part of them reaching the "bonaerense" market and other important urban centers of the country.

Utilization of the catches

The landings of the coastal fleet supply mainly the internal market, either for fresh consumption or, indirectly, giving raw material to the canning factories and the salting-tubs. An important part of the catches is destined to the processing factories to be exported.

The landings of the traditional deep sea fleet are destined to supply raw material to the processing factories in land, which fundamentally produce different classes of fillets and fish without head and eviscerated, fresh or refrigerated for the internal market or frozen to export. Almost all these vessels are integrated in different ways in the processing factories.

The fleet of freezing processing vessels, processes the catches on board and the resulting products are frozen according to the type of vessel: fillets or eviscerated fishes without head, fishblock or interfoliated, embedded fillets, wet squids, squid mantles, squid tentacles and fins, scallop bits, surimi, red shrimps. Some vessels of this fleet, the bigger ones, use the processing residuals to make fishmeal.

Present situation of the industry

The SENASA (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria) registered about 200 processing factories of marine products in land qualified at a national level. The main processing factories are located in the provinces of Buenos Aires (Mar del Plata, Necochea and Bahía Blanca), Río Negro (San Antonio Oeste), Chubut (Puerto Madryn, Rawson and Comodoro Rivadavia), Santa Cruz (Puerto Deseado and San Julián) and in Tierra del Fuego (Ushuaia). The main processes used in these factories are: filleting, eviscerating and without head, freezing, refrigerating, canning, salting, drying, fishmeal and oil and re-processing of the products frozen on board.

The fishmeal factories are located in Mar del Plata, Puerto Madryn and Puerto Deseado and they use, as raw material, the residuals of the other industry branches.
The catches processed on board of the freezing and factory vessels are related with the target species, include the elaboration of frozen, eviscerated and without head products, fillets, red shrimps and squids and fishmeal, obtaining intermediate and final goods directly to export. One part of the production is sometimes re-processed in land aiming to obtain bigger aggregated value products.

The consolidation of the use of the marine area resources corresponding to Patagonia which, a little time ago, was not completely exploited, has significantly changed the composition and characteristics of the catches of the Argentinean fishing fleet.
In the 80's and 90's a significant qualitative and quantitative change took place in the fishing structure of the country. Under the quantitative point of view with a great increase of the landings, and from a qualitative point of view, with the incorporation of new catch and processing technologies which allowed the exploitation of new species and changes in their composition.

The total landings duplicated between 1991 and 1997, reaching 1.34 million tons in 1997. This was a consequence of the massive incorporation of new different type units and under different operational modalities of fishing gears and of enterprise organization, favoured by some governmental measures which made the process easier. Although the hake TAC is about 400 thousand tons, the present catch of 1.3 millions largely exceeded this level what could cause the collapse of this species. This situation forced the authorities to restrict the catches of this species and to limit the operation of the fleet; that is the reason why the total landings decreased again since 1998, representing only 1 million tons in 1999.

In 1985 the catches of Southwest Atlantic hake represented 64 per cent of the total with 260 thousand tons, while in 1996 the catches of this species increased to almost 600 thousand tons, decreasing, on the other hand, its relative participation to little more than 48 per cent. For all the mentioned reasons, the landings of this species decreased to 312,000 tons in 1999, with a participation of only 31.1 per cent of the total.
As a consequence of the incorporation of specialized units and with very selective gears for the squid fishing jiggers it was possible, in 1997, to overcome the 400 thousand tons of nominal catches representing a little more than 30 per cent of the total landings, while in 1985 only 21.5 thousand tons were caught, representing 5.30 per cent. In 1999 343 thousand tons of squids were caught, that is 34 per cent of the total marine catches landed.

The catches of red shrimp during the last decade were maintained within the predictable margins, with fluctuations (maximum 24,402 tons in 1992, minimum 6,172 tons in 1995 and almost 15,900 tons in 1999) due to the favourable or unfavourable conditions for the recruitment and to the bigger or smaller accomplishment of the current prohibitions.
Since the incorporation of specialized factory vessels in the production of surimi, species that, in 1985, were relatively abundant but not very exploited, like Southern blue whiting and the Patagonian grenadier, reached together 17 per cent of the total catches with 172 thousand tons of nominal landings in 1999.

In 1985 the 44 freezer and factory vessels landed 20.3 per cent of the nominal catches (80,400 tons) while in 1994 the number of vessels reached 188 with 57.1 per cent of the total (535,500 tons). In 1999 these vessels (187 operating) caught 693 thousand tons (69.2. per cent of the total). On the other hand, the traditional deep sea fleet maintained the number of vessels and their production in absolute terms between 1985 and 1994, but their participation within the total catches decreased strongly from 61.6 per cent in 1985 to 27 per cent in 1994 and to 19 per cent in 1999, with a decrease in the landings to 195,000 tons during this last year. The landings of the coastal fleet including that of the bay or cove went from 71,100 tons in 1985 to 147,400 tons in 1994 and to 126,000 in 1999, decreasing the participation, more or less stable around the 17 per cent until 1994, to 12 per cent in 1999.

Another important aspect was the change in the activity relative participation in the different harbours where the fishing production is landed. In 1985 the main harbour, Mar del Plata, registered 63.6 per cent of the landings (252 thousand tons), while in 1994 its participation was 34.4 per cent despite the fact that the registered landings were 323 thousand tons, and in 1999 were landed 307 thousand tons (30,2 per cent of the total). The nominal landings in Puerto Madryn and Puerto Deseado (the main Patagonian harbours) increased from 15 per cent (41.400 tons) to 26.3 per cent (246.800 tons) during the period 1985-1994 and to 40 per cent (411.000 tons) in 1999. For what concerns the most austral harbours Ushuaia and Punta Quilla, which in 1985 had no meaning, reached in 1994 a participation of 52 per cent (488 thousand tons) and 15 per cent (153,000 tons) in 1999 respectively.

The dimension and composition of the fishing products exports also reflected the changes observed in the productive structure. The total exports between 1985 and 1994 increased from 150,400 to 536,200 tons and from US$ 152.2 millions to US$ 725.7 millions, reaching 671 thousand tons with a value of U$S 1,014 millions in 1996, and soon after decreased to 323 thousand tons and to U$S 510 millions in 1999.

The frozen products maintained a relevant participation in the total exports (around 95 per cent) for a long time . Despite this fact, the relative composition between the different products suffered important modifications. Since there were greater catches of squids by specialized vessels (jiggers), the squid participation in the exports became important (24 per cent of the volume and 12.6 per cent of the exported value in 1999). Even so, the incorporation of specialized vessels in the capture of scallops and the processing on board of frozen pieces started having a place in the Argentinean exports (2.2 per cent of the volume and 6.3 per cent of the value), just like the activity of factory vessels dedicated to surimi processing (2.3 per cent of the volume and 2.8 per cent of the value). The exports of frozen red shrimps maintained its importance with 23.2 per cent of the income of foreign currency with a participation of 5.3 per cent of the total volume. Meanwhile, the refrigerated or frozen fillets represented 28.0 per cent and 31.6 per cent of the fishing exports total volume and value. For what concerns the Southwest Atlantic hake, it has been loosing participation in the exports due to the restrictions imposed to the catches; however, it is still the main exported species, and its several products represent 32.3 per cent and 26.8 per cent of the volume and value respectively, of the fishing products exports in 1999. An item that is becoming important is the air transportation of fresh and refrigerated fish and seafood, which, with 12.400 tons and little more than US$ 9 millions participate with 3.9 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively in the fishing products total exports. It has to be pointed out that all the percentages mentioned above, correspond to export provisional numbers for 1999.

The non-solved legal conflicts between the provinces with marine littoral and the State are an important matter under a political, legal, and institutional point of view and for what concerns the productive structure. These conflicts are based on the management of the fishing resources exploitation, the technical weakness of the fishing administration and the lack of a legal boundary according to the importance of fisheries, which allow an efficient regulation of the effort and the structure of a long term strategy that allows the sustained and rational development of the sector. However, in the beginning of 1998 the Fishing Federal Law N° 24922 was promulgated, creating the Fishing Federal Council, integrated by a representative of each of the five provinces with marine coast and five representatives of the State and which, by decree is assigned to the Agriculture, Livestock, Fishing and Food Secretary (SAGPyA) which is the Authority responsible for the application of the Law. The Fishing Federal Law could not be completely applied and inter-jurisdictional conflicts although they have been conciliated, up to a certain point, could not yet be solved inside the Fishing Federal Council. The mentioned Law gives the Council the possibility of deciding the national fishing policy, to determine the annual Maximum Allowable Catch for each species, to licence the fishing vessels and to regulate the ITQ system for the species they decide to choose. The Law assigns the responsibility of the control of the fishing resources exploitation, the formulation of the national fishing policy and its execution to the Autoridad de Aplicación (la SAGPyA), after being established by the Council. The Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Fishing and Food is the President of the Council.

Economic function of the fishing industry

The fishing activity has a low participation in the GDP. However, its greater importance is the contribution to the fishing centres development; these centers are located along the extensive coast for what concerns the economic activity and the employment it generates, in zones where the alternatives of work are not abundant; it is also important the contribution to the commercial and payment balance, through the exports that reached in 1997 their historical maximums in volume with 804 mil tons and in value with US$ 1,035 millions, although these numbers have been decreasing since then for the already mentioned reasons.

It should be stressed out that traditionally the fishing activity was mainly oriented to exports. In that sense, the fishing products exports represented, in 1998, 14 per cent of those of the primary agriculture and livestock sector, 6 per cent those of the combined sectors of agriculture and livestock and the agro industry and 3.4 per cent of the total exports of the country.


The relative scarcity of the internal market is one of the conditioning characteristics of the structure of the Argentinean fishing activity, as a consequence of the traditional preference of the population for the protein consumption from another source in their diet, mainly cow meat favoured by its abundance and its relative low price. Besides the consumption habits, other factors contributed for that, like the suspicion and susceptibility regarding the freshness of the products, the lack of knowledge about the nutritive qualities and the ways of preparation, the relatively high price and the permanent difficulties of the internal commercialisation system, related with the insufficiency of the freezing storage systems and the rigidity of the system. This last one is being reverted in the great urban centers for several new factors which were being observed in the last years: super and hyper markets chains with sectors destined to exhibit and sale fresh and frozen fishing products of good quality and presentation; for health reasons, once the doctors are recommending people to eat marine fishes in order to reduce the cholesterol and for obesity reasons; diffusing the freezer, once the majority of the mid class houses presently have this apparatus as well as the microwaves.

The limitations of the internal demand do not allow the productive sector to have the necessary stability to smooth the unbalanced structure of the international markets and do it strongly depending on them. The external demand has been the determinant dynamic factor of the fishing development, starting with the great possibilities that the frozen products of the main species exploited have been having in the international market.


As a consequence of the capture volumes reached by the fishing fleet, Southwest Atlantic hake (Merluccius hubbsi) is now risking the collapse. Other resources are in the same situation, that is, they are fully exploited and is necessary that they follow the same way. The present situation is that the fishing fleet oriented to the Southwest Atlantic hake has a fishing capacity of about 1,3 million tons and the determined maximum allowed catch is only 110 thousand tons a year, being practically impossible that the CMP may exceed the annual 400,000 tons once that, in a certain period of time, the resource may recover to the traditional values. It has to be said that it is necessary to reduce at least two thirds of such catch capacity, while at short term, from the remaining third, the fourth part of the fleet can only catch Southwest Atlantic hake, for there are no species with enough volume to be an alternative.

Then, the real expansion possibilities of the catches are the small pelagics (argentine anchovy in species with a short vital cycle (squid), demersal fishes like the Patagonian grenadier, taking into account, in this last case, that the species shows up in the same distribution area than the Southwest Atlantic hake, and that is the reason why no fishing licences should be given for this species to vessels that do not have it for the Southwest Atlantic hake. It is necessary to implement efficient organization plans for each fishery, which will allow the recover of the affected stocks and the possibility to maintain them completely exploited, avoiding over fishing.

Even so, the sustained development possibilities of the fishing sector can still be enlarged, without meaning a bigger pressure on the resources, through a better improvement of the present landings and of the absolute and comparative advantages one can count on reaching excellent values within the productive structure and, as a consequence, the maximization of the economic and social benefits that the sector can give.

Argentina offers interesting development possibilities for the aquaculture, due to the favourable conditions of its territory, and of the communications infrastructure and the existing processing capacity for fishing products. In that sense it is considered to be possible the aquaculture development based on the correct choice of the species to be cultivated, the adequate places and the economic possibilities.


The Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero (INIDEP) (Fishing Research and Development National Institute) is the organism responsible to give the necessary scientific support for the rational exploitation of the resources and to avoid the over fishing. It has two modern research vessels capable to operate in all the Argentinean EEZ area and a third one for the area of Río de la Plata. Besides that, there are, in Patagonia, centers that co-operate for the same objective.

At the present, the INIDEP is developing several research programs and projects among which: demersal species (Southwest Atlantic hake, coastal species and austral species), continental waters (Cuenca del Plata), pelagic species and invertebrates (squids, red shrimp, centolla and centollón, scallops and argentine anchovy), marine environment (reproductive biology and environmental characterization and red tides) and technology and information (hydro-acoustics, fishing gears selectivity and evaluation, seabream culture, observers on board and landings sampling).

The Centro de Investigaciones de Tecnología Pesquera (CITEP) (Fishing Technology Research Center) develops processing technology projects and fishing products development.


The Proyecto de Desarrollo Pesquero (Fishing Development Project) (PNUD - FAO - Argentinean Government) took place between 1966 and 1974 and carried out important tasks related with the Argentine anchovy and the Southwest Atlantic hake research, utilization of fishing gears and trade.

Later on, two research vessels (one from Germany and other from Japan) operated in Argentinean waters and two fishing research vessels were built with the financial assistance of both governments which are those that INIDEP operates at the present.
Financial assistance has been received from DIB and the Banco Mundial and, due to the agreement with the European Union, were also received non-refundable assistance funds as a counterpart of the fishing agreements.

At the present, the last steps are being carried out in order to receive financial assistance from the World Bank, to implement the ITQ system in Argentina and to implement also the controls that such system involves.

Future needs

The future requirements point to the formulation of a sustained sector development strategy that contemplates the need to regulate the exploitation of the main fishing resources, to recover the overexploited ones, to reduce the fishing effort and to obtain products with a bigger aggregated value at medium term, able to bring, at short term, more employment or to decrease the unemployment expected to occur due to the implementation of the hake conservation and the recuperation measures. On the other hand, the implementation of projects based on the aquaculture (marine and fresh water) as an appropriated mean to contribute to the production increase.

Taking into account the present situation of the fishing development, of the fishing knowledge and of the professional level reached in the research, the technical assistance should cover particular aspects and in the more and more specialized areas such as the management of the available fishing resources and its strategical priorities.


Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Pesca y Alimentación

Consejo Federal Pesquero

Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero (INIDEP)

Dirección Nacional de Pesca y Acuicultura

Consejo Federal de Inversiones



In order to process the fishmeal, which is mostly exported, the industry uses the processed products residuals of the freezing vessels.