Commercial deep-sea fishing off of Peru's coastal belt of over 3,000 km (1,860 mi), is a major enterprise. Peruvian waters normally abound with marketable fish: bonito, mackerel, drum, sea bass, tuna, swordfish, anchoveta, herring, shad, skipjack, yellowfin, pompano, and shark. More than 50 species are caught commercially. There are over 40 fishing ports on the Peruvian coast, Paita and Callao being the most important centers.
The Peruvian fishing industry, primarily based on the export of fish meal, used in poultry feed, is among the largest in the world. Peru's fishing sector led the world during the mid-1960s, although production since then has fluctuated radically. In the 1970s, overfishing nearly lead to the disappearance of the anchovy resource. The fish meal and fish-processing industry is managed by Pescaperú, which was founded in 1973.
The key to Peru's fishing industry in any given year is the presence or absence of El Niño; this warm ocean current displaces the normally cool waters deep in the Pacific, thereby killing the microorganisms upon which other marine life depends. The recurrence of El Niño causes the disappearance of anchoveta and a sharp fall in the catch of other species. The average annual catch during 1991–2000 was 8,515,000 tons. The total catch in 2000 was 10,658,620 tons, second highest in the world after China. That total included 9,575,717 tons of anchoveta, 226,294 tons of South American pilchard, and 296,579 tons of Chilean jack mackerel. Exports of fish products in 2000 amounted to $1.13 billion.
To suppress invasion of their rich fishing grounds by foreign powers, Peru made formal agreements with Chile and Ecuador to extend the rights to their coastal waters out to 200 nautical mi. Violations of the proclaimed sovereignty by Argentine and US fishing fleets in 1952 and 1954 gave rise to shooting incidents. Since then, US fishing boats have occasionally been seized and fined or required to purchase fishing licenses; after eight US tuna boats were taken in November 1979, the United States retaliated by imposing a temporary embargo on Peruvian tuna.