Future Protected Area Could Help Combat Destructive Fishing on Peru’s Northern Coast | Oceana
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A humpback whale makes a splash off the coast of Piura, Peru. Illegal and destructive fishing plagues this region, but a proposed protected area may help.
Christian Vinces / Shutterstock

Often when Alberto Jacinto looks out to the ocean from his home on Peru's northern coast, the first thing he sees is a boat with a tightly woven net hung off its sides like wings. The shrimp trawler always stands out not just because of its size, but because of what it’s doing to local wildlife and marine habitats.

“They drag their nets over everything, they destroy reefs, but the worst thing is that their nets scoop up everything,” said Jacinto. Artisanal fishermen like Jacinto can be particularly hard-hit by wasteful fishing practices. ­“It’s devastating because in the end if they take in 100 kilos they may only keep 10 or 20 and dump the rest back into the sea."

While artisanal shrimp trawling is permitted within 5 miles of the Peruvian shore, industrial fishing is banned. But large-scale fishers often flout these rules — particularly those who fish for hake, a mid-water species that supports a major fishery in Peru. An estimated 50 percent of the fishing boats on Peru’s coast do not have licenses, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that illegal fishing cost Peru $360 million in 2015 alone. The problem is particularly acute in the Tropical Pacific Sea on Peru’s northern coast, where the cold Humboldt Current from the south moves west towards the Galapagos and more tropical conditions prevail, allowing ocean life to thrive. 

This stretch of sea has the highest marine biodiversity in Peru, and is home to over 16,000 artisanal fishers. The region also generates more than half of all fish eaten in Peru, and is critical both to feeding coastal families and sustaining the gastronomy boom underway in the country’s urban areas.

Despite the region’s importance, the coastline is rarely patrolled. Industrial hake trawling continues unabated within the first 5 miles of coastline, generating significant social and environmental costs. Artisanal shrimp trawling, though not illegal, generates huge amounts of bycatch every year, destroying bottom habitats and killing fish and other marine species that could have been put to use by artisanal fishermen in the future. The lack of control also leaves Peruvian fishermen vulnerable to pirates, who have been known to steal from fishing boats and on several occasions have killed the fishermen aboard. 

To help combat crime on the northern coast, the Peruvian government is currently considering a plan to create a protected area in the Tropical Pacific Sea. The area would encompass critical habitat around several islands and rocky reefs, and would allocate resources to patrol for pirates and illegal fishers.

Along with bumping up patrols, the government and the communities along the potential reserve hope to create non-fishing jobs in the area by working with both the Exterior Commerce Ministry and the Tourism Ministry. The government hopes that the reserve could generate the same kind of tourism success that other protected areas in the country have seen. The Paracas National Reserve on the country’s southern coast received more than 320,000 visitors in 2016, making it one of the country’s most visited areas. 

“Illegal trawling is a huge problem in Peru, and it hurts artisanal fishermen in particular” said Patricia Majluf, the vice president of Oceana Peru. “We hope that a new protected area in the Tropical Pacific will help these fishermen.  Better enforcement of laws against illegal fishing is greatly needed if we want to preserve Peru’s marine resources for the future.”    

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