Meet the women revolutionising Peru’s fishing sector

An FAO-supported programme lends a hand to innovative entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs in Peru’s fisheries sector are seeing their businesses take off, with help from an innovative national programme supported by FAO and the World Bank. ©FAO/Jordi Vaque


When Peruvian fisher, Karin Abensur, caught nearly 800 kilograms of fish early one morning five years ago, she calculated roughly how much she would earn. “I thought, worst case scenario, they would give me 6 soles (USD 1.76) per kilo,” Karin said. But when she returned to the port of Pucusana in central Peru, after four hours on the high seas, she was disappointed to be offered just 1 sol per kilogram – roughly USD 0.30. "They told me to take it, because no one would give me more.”    

This captures a grim reality for many people, like Karin, who make a living in Peru’s fisheries sector. The market value of common species like spiny dogfish and angelshark, which are abundant along the Peruvian coast, is generally low. Fishing has always been Karin’s passion, but after studying marketing at university, she realised that she had to get creative if she wanted to turn her passion into a livelihood. Soon after, she started her new business: transforming fish that have a lower market price into sought-after products, such as fish that is cut and prepared for sushi.  

She was inspired by the Asian food trend taking Peru by storm. “There’s a boom of Asian restaurants in Lima,” Karin said, “Many people want to eat sushi, but some cannot afford it.” 

Her business, Karin Ecofish, teaches female workers to use innovative cutting techniques in order to create new products from the fish she captures. They are now skilled in making the intricate, Japanese-style cuts that fetch a higher price in the market. "I am taking a chance and creating Asian-style cuts, but with bonito,” she says, referring to a cheap locally caught fish that tastes similar to tuna.   

"After casting out my nets, as I wait, I play the qena (a traditional Andean flute) to ask the apus (mountain spirits) to have a good fishing day," says fisherwoman Karin Abensur. ©FAO/Jordi Vaque.

It’s not just restaurants that she wants to entice with her locally-sourced, sustainable fish, but local consumers too. To encourage more people to eat fish, she’s expanding her product range from sushi, training her workers to make fish nuggets and fish fingers for children and grill-friendly cuts for family gatherings.  

On the opposite side of Peru, in the Puno region, another innovative female-led aquaculture business has had equal success. About 4 000 metres above sea level on the shores of Lake Arapa, a small business named Truchas Arapa produces a striking red-coloured trout by extracting axtasantin, a natural dye, from the munida fish. This fish is a common bycatch that is often left to rot on the shores. By incorporating the dye into trout feed, the farmed trout changes colour so it is more appealing to consumers and has a higher market value, making it more profitable. The fish has proven so popular that one of Lima’s top restaurants now serves it. 

Reyna Callata is the commercial director of Truchas Arapa. She has always been involved in the aquaculture industry in the area and used to manage her family’s company, which produces and sells trout from different areas of the Cusco department.  

“We needed to take a leap and we want to continue growing. We were sure this unique trout, healthy and high in protein, would be in high demand, with fairer prices leading to new jobs for people in the area.” 

The technical side of the project is run by Marisol Churacutipa. She joined as a practitioner and rose to the position of Head of Production, responsible for processing the trout into product. For Marisol, the success of their female-led business is more than just economic.  

“Many people are proud to see that women can carry out a project not just at home, but on a bigger scale. One that is productive and creating job opportunities for the community for women, and also for men,” she said.  

These projects are just two of the 800 businesses selected to take part in the Government of Peru's Fisheries and Aquaculture Innovation Program (PNIPA). Started in 2017 and financed by the World Bank, PNIPA was designed by FAO, and at the Peruvian government’s request, FAO continues to support this programme. This includes implementing a competitive grant scheme to fund innovative farming techniques, improving the governance of the fishing sector and making use of digital platforms to monitor the programme’s performance. 

PNIPA builds on the fishing communities’ ancestral knowledge, helping them safeguard their fishery resources, tap into new markets and create more sustainable livelihoods. The programme celebrates innovation, not only by supporting entrepreneurship but also by encouraging women, indigenous communities and young people to put forward their ideas and participate. The programme expects to support 2 000 initiatives by the end of 2022. 

Marisol Churacutipa and Reyna Callata have had success with their business, adding natural dye to give trout more flavour and value. ©FAO/Jordi Vaque

However, the programme doesn’t just focus on the fishers themselves, it also builds networks between researchers, restaurants, entrepreneurs and experts to create a sustainable, profitable fishing and aquaculture sector across the country. Dennis Escudero, an FAO investment expert, notes the importance of PNIPA’s participatory approach: “The communities themselves are coming up with innovative solutions. The programme funds initiatives that arise from real needs in different supply chains.”  

Once a project has been selected through a competitive process, the recipients make an initial financial contribution and PNIPA funds cover the rest. This approach leads to greater involvement and ownership among the recipients. Alongside financing, the programme holds a wide range of workshops and events designed to improve skills such as marketing. 

Innovation, innovation, innovation: it is key to creating sustainable livelihoods in today’s changing climate and to achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals. Taking traditional sectors, like fisheries and aquaculture, and supporting local entrepreneurs and innovative ideas has had an incredible effect in Peru and is improving the lives of women and men across the country.  

Editor's note: This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Peru.

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5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 9. Industry innovation and infrastructure, 14. Life below water