Methodology: Behind the numbers

A look at the data work in Looting the Seas III



Peru is second only to China as a fishing nation, and its main catch is anchoveta. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, with the Lima-based investigative center IDL-Reporteros, decided to analyze how the anchoveta fishery — the world’s largest — was regulated and controlled.

IDL-Reporteros sought access to the official database of anchoveta landings using freedom of information in March 2011. The Ministry of Production denied access repeatedly, saying it was not public.

In this database, officials log details of every vessel landing: its estimated catch, the ship-owner, where its catch is processed, and the company that audits weighing of the fish. These measures are designed to determine how many tons are caught.

IDL-Reporteros working with ICIJ used sources to gain access to the records of more than 100,000 landings from 2009 to July 2011 – five fishing seasons. ICIJ’s investigation focused on two aspects: the catch weight declared by the fishing vessel and the amount logged at the scales inside the processing plant. A range of specialists told ICIJ a vessel’s estimate might be reasonably off by 10 percent versus the recorded weighed amount. Beyond that, discrepancies were described as suspicious. ICIJ calculated the tonnage of fish missing for all declared landings in which the discrepancy was more than 10 percent.

ICIJ focused on the north and central ports, where 90 percent of anchoveta are landed. In these regions, the same company often owns both the fishing fleets and the processing plants. This means few independent operators are liable to denounce irregularities and patterns are easier to identify.

For the first fishing season of early 2009, Peru’s control system was not fully operational. ICIJ obtained official inspection records and entered them manually in the database. ICIJ’s data team rechecked the entries.

To calculate the value of undeclared fish, ICIJ used the average price in US dollars based on monthly figures on the Ministry of Production website. The ratio of anchoveta to fishmeal was 4:3, as recommended by industry specialists.

In analyzing individual companies, ICIJ looked at how many landings had discrepancies above 10 percent between the declared catch and the logged amount. Based on that list, we looked into how recurrent these were in relation to the total number of landings of that company.

Lords of the fish

Each year, the Chilean government publishes one report on quotas for catches in different fishing regions and another that lists the tonnage allowed to each company.  We analyzed jack mackerel quotas for 2011.

ICIJ reporters searched the official gazette and company websites along with records of the Superintendencia de Valores y Seguros, Chile’s securities and exchange commission. Three of the eight groups that control most of the jack mackerel fishing rights had recently merged, and the new companies were not listed as single units in quota documents.

To sketch an accurate picture, the reporters combined companies owned by a single family and totaled the quotas of separate entities that had merged. Then, they interviewed government officials, industry leaders, marine biologists, naval officers and other experts in Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción, and in the southern ports of Talcahuano, Lota and Coronel.

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