Panamanian Small Pelagics

Panamanian Small Pelagics

Fishery Improvement Project

Last Update: June, 2020


  • Pacific anchoveta (Cetengraulis mysticetus)
  • Pacific thread herring (Opisthonema spp)
  • Pacific bumper (Chloroscombrus orqueta)

FIP Stage according to CASS progress table: 4, FIP is delivering improvement in policies or practices

FIP Rating according to SFP rating system: A (Exceptional Progress, Jan 2020)

FIP Rating according to MSC benchmarking tool: Initial (Jul 2013): 0.30; Second (Jul 2014): 0.40; Third (Jul 2015): 0.68; Fourth (Jul 2016): 0.73; Current (Jul 2017): 0.75

Fishery Location: Gulf of Panama, Panama

FIP Coordination: If you would like more information about the FIP or if you wish to support it, please contact Edwin Medina.

FIP Partners:

FIP Supporters:

Sustainability Information:

Date Publicly Announced: 2011

Current Improvement Recommendations:

  • Continue to keep historical records of catch and effort.
  • Continue to collect biological data such as size structure, reproductive status and other variables that will serve to conduct stock assessments.
  • Improve the management plan, including the establishment of biological based reference points.
  • Continue collecting key information from the fishery and about the impacts on the environment with observers onboard.


The small pelagics fishery in the Gulf of Panama is mainly sustained (80% of landings) by two species: Pacific anchoveta, (Cetengraulis mysticetus) and Pacific thread herring (Opisthonema libertate).  Pacific bumper (Chloroscombrus orqueta) comprised another 10% of landings over the past few years, while many other bycatch species (many of them also small pelagic fish) comprise the remaining 10%.  These are forage species: short-lived, pelagic, and small-sized species that have a low trophic level, constituting prey for other fish, marine birds, turtles, and mammals. The Panamanian small pelagics fishery is the most important in the region north of Peru and south of Mexico, and is of crucial ecological importance for the large marine ecosystem called the Panama Bight.

The Panamanian small pelagics fishery began in the 1940s as one of the sources of bait for the tuna international fishery, and since the 1960s it has been the basis of the Panamanian reduction industry that produces fishmeal and fish oil for national consumption and export.  In 2018, 85.9 thousand short tons of raw fish produced 7.8 thousand of fish oil and 19.0 of fishmeal.  As of December 2018, exports were valued at 16.9 million USD, with Europe as the main market for fish oil, and China, North America, and countries neighboring Panama as the main customers for fishmeal.

Industrial catches are made with purse seines. Each of the 18 purse seine boats that are currently operating makes daily trips between April and October, landing products at the two processing plants in the country, located at Puerto Caimito and Puerto Coquira (Probasa joined the fishery in 2016).  Small amounts of artisanal catches are made in low-depth areas with fishnets and small purse seines and are then used as bait for fish of higher commercial value, such as snapper, grouper, and weakfish.

Key initial issues:

  • The lack of data to feed stock assessments for the exploited species
  • The consequent lack of biological reference points to guide management
  • Undetermined interaction of fishing gears with the sea bottom and its associated communities
  • Impacts of unknown intensity over other fisheries
  • Undetermined interaction with protected, endangered, or threatened (PET) species.

FIP Objectives:

  • To collaborate with ARAP (Panamanian Authority for Aquatic Resources, the fisheries and research agency) on the implementation of a research and monitoring plan for the small pelagics fishery to collect the data necessary to start assessing the stock sizes.
  • Promote the development of assessment tools that would help to estimate the status of the stocks of small pelagics that inhabit the Gulf of Panama, including the adoption of biological reference points and logic rules to guide the decision-making process (the harvest strategy).
  • Encourage the adoption of the ecosystem approach for fisheries, carrying out information diffusion activities like workshops that include all stakeholders and also training activities for personnel involved in research on the variables that are affected by and that affect this fishery.
  • Collaborate with ARAP on planning an on-board observers program for the purse seine fleet that, besides collecting relevant data on target species, will allow for systematic monitoring of this fishery’s interaction with PET species and for estimating real catch/discard levels of non-target species.
  • Coordinate the compilation of existing local studies related to the diet of species that inhabit the Gulf of Panama and are considered vulnerable or that are thought to be subjected to high levels of exploitation, with the objective of answering questions related to the impact of this fishery over the trophic chain.
  • Promote studies that aim to identify and eventually mitigate the impacts of this fishery on the sea bottom and its associated benthic communities, as well as on other fisheries.
  • Collaborate on publishing research findings.

Progress Update:


CeDePesca conducted meetings and dialogues with stakeholders such as the Panamanian Seafood Exports Association (Appexmar); artisanal fishers associations; Promarina representatives; and other stakeholders such as Conservation International, Mar Viva, WWF-Colombia, and researchers from the University of Panama since 2009 until the FIP was launched publicly in 2011.

CeDePesca held many meetings with stakeholders and a workshop with managers and scientists to disseminate the Ecological Risk Assessment on the Effects of Fishing (ERAEF) while using it to better understand the small pelagics fishery.


The supply chain is understood and the aquaculture certification processes have revealed some important users for the products of this fishery.  Supply chain leverage is operating via Cargill to encourage the aforementioned improvements.


In September, the FIP was informally agreed between Promarina and CeDePesca and publicly launched.


January – March 2012

In February 2012, Promarina signed an MOU with CeDePesca to work together on this FIP with the ultimate goal of MSC certification for the Panamanian small pelagics fishery.  As a vital part of the FIP, a preliminary gap analysis will be conducted to understand the improvement priorities necessary to get the fishery certifiable. After a period of improvements, an MSC pre-assessment will be conducted with an official certification body.

April – June 2012

In May 2012, a joint research project application was submitted to the National Secretary of Science and Technology (SENACYT) by CeDePesca, the Limnology Center at the University of Panama, ARAP, and Promarina to contribute to the monitoring and stock assessment for the small pelagics stocks. However, the project was highly scored but not selected, and SENACYT cited funding availability as the main reason.

July – September 2012

In July 2012, a gap analysis of the fishery was started against the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council.

In September 2012, a review and update of the databases for catch and effort and licensed fishing vessels was initiated. After that, a preliminary stock assessment was drafted using global models.  The results are expected to be ready for publication by the middle of 2013.

October – December 2012

In October 2012, the update of the catch and effort database continued, incorporating information from the 2012 fishing season.  Meetings were held with skippers to discuss the operative characteristics of fishing seasons.

In December 2012, the first draft of the gap analysis was completed and an improvement workplan was drafted.


January – March 2013

In March 2013, the preliminary conclusions of the gap analysis, the stock assessment, and the draft workplan was presented and discussed before the skippers of the fleet and ARAP officials in charge of this fishery.  At the meeting it was agreed with ARAP officials to restart basic monitoring activities when the season opens in April.

Training for skippers was followed up further with a discussion about the logbook to be used on board.

April – June 2013

In April, the first national workshop on fisheries research, organized by CeDePesca at the request of the fishing authority (ARAP), identified key research needs for this and other fisheries.  As an immediate outcome, ARAP decided to re-start the landings monitoring for this fishery.  This also served as a first step for the development of a research plan for this fishery.

In May, the Onboard Observer Program started, jointly managed by Promarina and CeDePesca. Observers were trained to collect information on target and bycatch species. By June 30, information from 22 trips and 63 sets had been collected. At the same time, ARAP started monitoring landed fish (recording species, size, and sex).

In June, the agreement between CeDePesca and the University of Panama was finally approved by the steering body of the University and is now signed and operative. Discussions are in place to establish scholarships and research activities for this fishery.

By June 30, CeDePesca had delivered the gap analysis to Promarina.

July – September 2013

In July, CeDePesca delivered the final version of the gap analysis of the fishery against the MSC standards: Eighteen performance indicators could get a score below 60 points. Additionally, 11 indicators could get a score between 60 and 79 points, and 2 could get a score equal to or greater than 80 points.

In July, the database from the Onboard Observer Program was updated with information from 78 sets, up to a total of 100 sets.

In August, CeDePesca and Promarina signed Specific Agreement #2, to implement the workplan based on findings from the gap analysis.

In August, talks began to sign an agreement between the University of Panama, Promarina, ARAP, and CeDePesca in order to allow students in their last year of studies and post-graduate students to join the Onboard Observers Program.

In September, the University of Panama, Promarina, CeDePesca, and ARAP discussed a first draft of the research plan of the fishery for the next year.

October – December 2013

The fishing season ended on October 10. The database from the Onboard Observers Program was updated with the latest information and a review process began.

In November, CeDePesca and the University of Panama started coordination of an ERAEF workshop to take place in January 2014 with stakeholder participation.

In December, review of the database from the Onboard Observers Program was completed.


January – March 2014

In January, an ERAEF pre-workshop was held with the aim of strengthening knowledge of individuals selected to lead groups during the workshop.  In addition, a meeting was held at Promarina to ensure participation of skippers.

In February, the ERAEF Workshop was held at the University of Panama. There were 36 participants in the workshop, including skippers, ARAP officials, researchers from the University of Panama, and NGO representatives.

In March, a pre-season cruise was conducted to examine the size and density of the anchovy population.

A new observer was trained to collect information on target and bycatch species. Also in March, a coordination meeting with students and professors at the University of Panama took place to agree on their participation in the 2014 Onboard Observers Program.

April – June 2014

In April, the fishing season begun and coordination meetings between the University of Panama, ARAP and CeDePesca were conducted in order to integrate students from the University of Panama into the Onboard Observers Program.  CeDePesca held pre-season meetings to introduce the appointed observers and to explain the goal of their activities to the skippers.

In May and June, the catch and effort database was updated as well as the biological database, and the quality of the information delivered by observers was monitored. Since the beginning of fishing season two trained observers have been embarked on purse-seine vessels

July – September 2014

In August, the catch and effort database and the biological database were updated and reviewed.

In September, a student of the Panamanian Maritime University (UMIP) began his professional practice as an onboard observer.

October-December 2014

In November, the fishing season closed.  In December, CeDePesca updated the catch and effort database and built the database for by-catch species, based on information from the Onboard Observers Program.


January – March 2015

In January, CeDePesca updated the biological database, with information provided by the Onboard Observers Program.

In February, CeDePesca and Promarina signed Specific Agreement #3, to conduct a first formal stock assessment; to organize a second workshop for the Ecological Risk Assessment for the Effects of Fishing (ERAEF); and to draft a management plan for the fishery based on the information collected throughout the full FIP implementation period.

In February, CeDePesca updated the Onboard Observers Program catch and effort database.

In March, CeDePesca completed the first formal stock assessment for this fishery and issued recommendations for a management plan.

April – June 2015

In May, a Letter of Commitment for the adoption of a management plan for the small pelagics fishery was signed by Promarina and CeDePesca, and to that effect a draft Executive Decree to regulate the fishery was discussed with ARAP.  Specific Agreement #4 was also signed, ammending a clause in Agreement #3.

In June, the data collection methodology for the Onboard Observers Program was reviewed and improved.

July – September 2015

In September, Promarina and CeDePesca presented a new draft management plan to ARAP.  Throughout the quarter, activities within the Onboard Observers Program have continued.

October – December 2015

In October, a MoU was signed between ARAP, Promarina, Taboguilla S.A., AnimalFeeds and CeDePesca to further delineate future improvement activities.  In this MoU, ARAP committed itself to reviewing and adopting a Management Plan for the fishery in the short term.

In November, the catch and effort database as updated, and in December, the biological database was also updated with information from the Onboard Observers Program.


January – March 2016

In February, CeDePesca and Promarina signed Specific Agreement #5, agreeing to conduct a second stock assessment; to organize a workshop for the presentation of the results; and to further adequate the draft management plan for the fishery.

Also in February, a Framework Collaboration Agreement was signed between ARAP and CeDePesca, recognizing the continued cooperation between both entities and formalizing an alliance oriented to improve management and research activities with the ultimate goal of attaining sustainability for Panamanian fisheries, the small pelagics fishery included.

In March, CeDePesca presented the outcomes of the second stock assessment to stakeholders.

On March 29th, the Government of Panama issued Executive Decree N° 107, effectively updating regulations for the small pelagics fishery that were set for the first time almost forty years before, in 1977.  This long-awaited and long-sought decree is based on a series of results and recommendations stemming from the work conducted so far in this fishery improvement project with support from fishery stakeholders, most notably Promarina and ARAP.  The Decree sets up a new license for the fishing of Pacific anchoveta, Pacific thread herring and Pacific bumper, and limits fishing capacity by setting at 20 the maximum number of licenses to be issued for industrial vessels and to 10 those issued for artisanal vessels (less than 8m long).  Net storage capacity of industrial vessels is required not to exceed 188 cubic meters, and specifications are described for fishing nets.  The decree also sets a framework for the issuing of annual total allowable catches (TACs), requiring that these are based on research and monitoring, and it adopts the Onboard Observers Program -an initiative of this FIP- setting up its minimum permanent coverage at 20% of operative vessels.  The decree also formalizes a long-used good practice used by the fishery, in adopting as a rule for the opening of the fishing season that the mean length of specimens caught in pre-season cruises should be at least 12.5cm TL for Pacific anchoveta and 17cm TL for Pacific thread herring (which correspond to their first maturity sizes).  The Executive Decree is considered a huge step forward towards ensuring the sustainability of the Panamanian small pelagics fishery, and it is also an important milestone for the implementation of this FIP.

April – June 2016

In April, the fishing season started.  In May, two students of the Panamanian Maritime University (UMIP) were trained and began their professional practice as observers on board.

In June, the catch and effort database was updated.

July – September 2016

In July, an updated draft of the proposed Management Plan for the Panamanian Small Pelagics Fishery was agreed by FIP partners and delivered formally to ARAP for their consideration.  This updated draft takes into account the results of the latest stock assessment prepared by CeDePesca.

Also in July, the second stock assessment was made public.  The document is available in Spanish and English in the Progress Update Table provided at the end of this public report.

In August, the catch and effort database was updated.  In September, the database on the target species gonadal status and the database on bycatch of sharks and turtles was updated.

October – December 2016

The 2016 fishing season ended in late October.  During this month, CeDePesca supported ARAP in the organization of a workshop regarding techniques for extracting, cutting, drying and preserving herring otoliths.  ARAP sent a formal letter to CIAT asking for experts to provide proper instruction for its technicians.

In December, the catch and effort database, the updating process of the database on the target species gonadal status and the database on bycatch of sharks and turtles continued.


January – March 2017

In January, a report on the bycatch observed by the Onboard Observers Program during the 2016 fishing season was prepared by CeDePesca and presented to Promarina.  The report is available in the Progress Update Table provided at the end of this document.  The database on catch and effort was also fully updated.

In February, Promarina and CeDePesca coordinated the execution of an hydoracoustic survey in the Gulf of Panama.  The survey took place onboard of Promarina’s fishing vessels “Anchoveta” and “Tabor” from February 20th to 25th under the lead of hydroacoustic experts Albor Tecnológico and with collaboration of CeDePesca.  The survey started at Punta Lisa, in front of the Peninsula of Azuero, and moved East through the Gulf of Panama until it reached coasts of Garachiné in the province of Darien.  The final report on the hydroacoustic survey was delivered by Albor Tecnológico to Promarina in March.

In March, CeDePesca started the recruiting process for the 2017 Onboard Observers Program.  Promarina has agreed to increase the coverage of the program from two onboard observers to three during the 2017 fishing season.

Also during this quarter, CeDePesca and Promarina started discussing the FIP’s Action Plan for 2017.

April – June 2017

On April 20th, Promarina and CeDePesca have welcomed Procesadora Bayano (Probasa) to the FIP.  Probasa is a fishmeal company that has recently started operations in the Gulf of Panama.  An addendum to the Framework Collaboration Agreement has been signed to welcome Probasa to the FIP, and Specific Agreement N°6 has been signed by all FIP partners adopting the 2017 FIP Action Plan.

Also in April, CeDePesca participated from the exploratory fishing trips that take place annually in coordination of ARAP before the start of the season onboard Promarina’s vessels.

In May, a biologist was trained to join the Observers Program.  Two observers will be boarding Promarina vessels, and one will be observing Probasa vessels.

On June 28th, ARAP sent a letter to Promarina and CeDePesca providing its opinions regarding the FIP’s proposal for the fishery’s management plan that was presented in mid-2016.  FIP Partners have started improving the proposal by taking into consideration ARAP’s comments, with the ultimate goal of achieving its adoption by the government.

Also during this quarter, CeDePesca has continued to update the databases of catch and effort as well as those of related to the stock’s size structure and the fishery’s bycatch.

July – September 2017

In July, an onboard observer was trained for the PROBASA fleet.

In August, Promarina, Probasa and CeDePesca met with ARAP to discuss changes to the proposed management plan for the fishery.  Also in August, the Onboard Observers Program database was handed over to the authority.

In September, the catch and effort database was updated with the information provided by Promarina. The size structure database was also updated with the information collected through the Onboard Observers Program.

October – December 2017

On October 31, the 2017 fishing season ended, and the catch and effort database and size structure database were updated with the information of the whole season during November.

In December, FIP partners held a meeting with ARAP to draft the FIP Action Plan for 2018.  It should be noted that, for the first time during the implementation of this FIP, ARAP has requested to participate from the activity planning process.


January – March 

In January, the catch and effort database, the size structure database and the database on bycatch of sharks and turtles were updated.

In March a hydroacoustic prospecting of small pelagic species was carried out in the Gulf of Panama conducted by FIP partners.

April – August 2018

In April, on Friday the 13th, the Fishing Season 2018 began according to Resolution DGOMI N ° 024 of April 10, 2018. A training workshop was held for on-board observers, participated in the technical workshop of ARAP and interested in the program of observers on board. Promarina hired two observers.

The Action Plan 2018-2019 was also elaborated.In May, the Maximum Allowable Catch (CMA) was estimated for the 2018 Season. An on-board observer was hired for the Probasa fleet.

In June, an analysis was made of the incidental captures of sea turtles and elasmobranchs by the bowling vessels from 2013 to 2017. The draft management plan for the fishery was reviewed.

In the meeting with the General Administrator of the ARAP, she was informed about the progress in the sustainability certification process of the fishery and the actions that have to be carried out in order to complete the requirements of the standard of IFFO V2.0. It was agreed to manage the funds for a peer review of the anchovy and herring stock assessments.

In August a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between ARAP, Promarina, Probasa, Taboguilla, AnimalFeed and CeDePesca.

In August, RESOLUTION ADM / ARAP No. 027 of August 28, 2018 was signed and published in Official Gazette No. 28605-B of September 5, 2018. By means of which the Management Plan of the fishery of small pelagic, anchovy, herring and orqueta in the Pacific of Panama, 2018.

September – December 2018

In September, a draft of the text of the TdR was drawn up to hire an expert in the assessment of small pelagic stocks.

In October update of the database of daily reports, catch and effort and, biological samples.

On November 15th, the Fishing Season 2018 closes, according to Resolution DGOMI No. 048 of November 8, 2018, Official Gazette No. 28653.

In December the updating of the database of daily reports, catch and effort and biological samples continued.


January –April 2019

In January, the catch and effort database, the size structure database and the database on bycatch of sharks and turtles were updated.

Workshop with the fishing captains of Promarina and Probasa on the measures of the management plan of the fishery and on measures to reduce the mortality of turtles, sharks and rays.

In February the Acoustic Prospecting 2019 was carried out from 21 to 25.

The Specific Agreement #7 between Promarina, Probasa and CeDePesca was signed in order to conduct a quarter stock assessment for the fishery and to give continuance to the observers program in 2019.

The FIP partners approved the Action Plan 2018-2019

In March a new GAP Analysis of the fishery was started based on the MSC V2.0 standard

In april CeDePesca coordinated a Workshop on the Estimation and Recommendation of the Maximum Allowable Capture for technicians of the Water Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP) and collaborators of the FIP Partners Promarina and Probasa.

In April, on Monday the 08th, the Fishing Season 2019 began according to Resolution DGOMI N ° 025 of April 02, 2019. A training workshop was held for on-board observers. Promarina hired two observers.

May –June 2019 

In May, the fishery performance analysis update continues against the MSC V2.0 standard, as a catch control, the weekly average of the Catch per Effort Unit (CPUE) was estimated, coordination meeting for the implementation of the specific management measures proposed in the management plan, three observers were trained on board theoretically and in the field.

In June, the fishery performance analysis update continues against the MSC V2.0 standard, CeDePesca moderates the second workshop on the calculation of the CMA to the ARAP researchers and collaborators of the FIP Partners Promarina and Probasa, at the request of the institution.

July – September 2019

In July, the fishery performance analysis update continues against the MSC V2.0 standard;

The progress of the CMA estimate for the 2019 Season was presented to the new R&D Director;

Weekly monitoring of the catch per unit effort (CPUE) corresponding to the current season;

Theoretical training observers on board.

In August, the Aquatic Resources Authority was requested to recognize CeDePesca as an administrator of observer programs on board;

Weekly monitoring of the catch per unit effort (CPUE) corresponding to the current season.

Monthly monitoring of bycatch, the percentage per area by species of unwanted catch was estimated.

In September, the 2019 anchovy fishing season is officially closed through Resolution No. DGOMI-189 of Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Published in Official Gazette No. 28870 of Friday, September 27, 2019;

Weekly monitoring of the catch per unit effort (CPUE) corresponding to the current season;

Monthly monitoring of bycatch, the percentage per area by species of unwanted catch was estimated.

October – December

In October the bycatch was monitored.

The methodology for calculating the CPUE of the anchovy in the 2020 fishing season was agreed; ARAP biologists were trained in the identification of herring species through the branqui-thorns count and it was agreed to close the 2019 Fishing Season on Friday, October 15.

Meeting of CeDePesca with the Directorate of Coasts and Seas (DICOMAR) of MIAMBIENTE and the University of Panama to work together in the monitoring of seabirds.

In November Catch and effort database, the size structure database and the database on bycatch of sharks and turtles were updated.; estimation of bycatch per month per species per area was continued; Databases on the different habitats of the fishing areas were reviewed; Between CeDePesca and the University of Panama, it was agreed to work together with PROME in the monitoring of seabirds that affect the activities of small pelagic catches.

In December, the act of completion of the Fishing Season 2019 is signed between the ARAP, the companies processing, marketing and exporting of fishmeal and fishing oil and CeDePesca; The estimate of the bycatch per month per species per area was continued; part of the information was collected and processed for assessments of anchovy and herring populations.



In January, the results of the situation of anchovy and herring populations in the Gulf of Panama were presented.

On February, We began the organization of the induction about the importance of the Hydroacustic Prospection, with the idea of demonstrate how they can colaborate with the experts. We began the communication with Mr. Federico Iriarte, who is the expert that developed an aplication in which We can apreciate all the results of the Hydroacustic Prospection in real time. 

On March, CeDePesca had a reunion with the Panamenian Authority for Acuatic resources, in that reunion we could coordinate the reunions to analize the results that emit the aplication in real time. 


On April, CeDePesca made the selection of a new on board observer, who will collaborate in the Partner company Probasa. Also, in this month, the Marine Biologist and Director of the Private Programes of On board Observers, Mayra Palacios, made the diagnosis and improvements in the technical digital and written register. 

On May, the On board observers took the capacitation about the security inductions of the Maritime International Organization (OMS), fulfilling with the fourteenth article of the N°15 resolution of Marine Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP). On May, 25, CeDePesca made formal delivery of the Evaluation of stocks of Anchovy and Herring to ARAP, made by the Ph.D. Cristian Canales. Also, on May 25, CeDePesca received notification of its certification as an Onboard Observer Training Center and as an entity authorized to implement Onboard Observer Programs in the Republic of Panama.

On June, CeDePesca fortify the relations with Panama National University and JustSea foundation in view of collaborate with new investigations of superior predators. First with a capacitation of marine birds with the National University of Panama  and with an exchenge about superior predators with JustSea Foundation. Contact was made with the General Directorate for Research and Development to resolve queries related to the private Onboard Observer Program and the catch and effort database of the fishery.

Due to the situation with COVID-19 in international level, CeDePesca in conjunction of the Partner companies, decided to lay off the Private On Board observers Program.