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With new protections, a critical fishery gets new lease on life

© Sarai Cortez Casamayor

Fishing is a way of life in Peru. 

And two out of every three fish consumed in Peru is caught in the Mar Tropical de Grau, one of the South American country’s most important fisheries. Fed by a convergence of currents, this region supports a wealth of marine life, including whales, sea turtles and whale sharks.

But this area is not immune from human-made pressures — oil and gas mining, overfishing, coastal development and unregulated tourism — that threaten to disrupt it.

Now, this fishery is getting a new lease on life. 

On April 26, the Peruvian government established a marine protected area here that bans mining and regulates fishing. And as marine protected areas go, it’s quite small — only 1,155 square kilometers (446 square miles), an area just larger than New York City. Like the Big Apple, though, the newly minted Mar Tropical de Grau National Reserve is densely populated, housing roughly 70 percent of Peru’s marine wildlife. 

Needless to say, conservationists praised the move. 

“We’ve waited a decade for this,” said Cynthia Cespedes, ocean lead at Conservation International-Peru. “With these bold protections, the Mar Tropical de Grau will be a refuge for marine life to thrive.”

Artisanal fishermen in Peru supply 80 percent of the fish consumed in the country. © Gustavo Carrasco

Securing these protections took time due to strong opposition from the oil and gas and fishing industries, said Cespedes, who worked with local fishermen to help gain their support for the protections. Initially, the local artisanal fishing community — which includes more than 15,000 fishermen — also opposed the protections out of fear they would hurt their ability to fish. 

For years, Conservation International has worked with local fishermen to demonstrate the benefits of marine protected areas. According to a Conservation International study, well-managed marine protected areas not only improve fish populations, they also boost food security and the incomes of local communities. The study found that marine protected areas with the highest protections had nearly a third more fish than open-access zones with no restrictions. And the average wealth index, a measure of relative household income, was 33 percent higher in communities near the best protected ocean areas.

In the case of Peru’s artisanal fishermen — who are legally granted the first 8 kilometers (5 miles) off the coast to fish — the new regulations will also protect them from encroaching commercial fisheries who have often ignored those rules.

Gaining the support of the local fishermen was critical, Cespedes said.

“Marine protected areas that work with local communities are more effective — full stop,” she said. “With these protections, we can ensure that the region maintains healthy fish populations for generations to come.”

Humpback whales travel to the Mar Tropical de Grau each year to give birth. © Sarai Cortez Casamayor

Further Reading: Protecting the ocean benefits people and nature

Mary Kate McCoy is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Also, please consider supporting our critical work.