Case Study

September 13
6 mins

Small-scale fishers fight against illegal industrial fishing in Northern Peru

Rocío López de la Lama & Santiago de la Puente
Artisanal sailboat fishing with hook and line from Los Organos community in Piura, Peru. Photo by Rocío López de la Lama.
Artisanal sailboat fishing with hook and line from Los Organos community in Piura, Peru. Photo by Rocío López de la Lama.
Small-scale fishers from northern Peru are experiencing negative impacts from illegal industrial fishing practices within the protected 5-mile area. Despite the advocacy efforts of local fishers for enforcement of the zone designated for small-scale fishers and for the creation of an MPA, political instability, corruption, and the influence of oil companies have hindered progress.
Sailing boat from Los Organos fishing community in Northern Peru
Figure 1. Traditional artisanal sailboat from Los Organos community in Piura, Peru. Photo by Rocío López de la Lama.

The regions of Tumbes and Piura, in northern Peru, are important suppliers of seafood for direct human consumption nationwide (Christensen et al., 2014). However, the presence of illegal industrial fishers is negatively impacting fish abundance as unsustainable fishing practices are taking place (De la Puente et al., 2021). These illegal industrial fisheries are not only using non-selective fishing gear but also fishing within the first five nautical miles (5-miles). Illegal fishing is mainly done through purse seiners and trawlers, both forbidden within the 5-miles (SPDA, 2020). This is happening despite the fact that the 5-miles have been legally protected for 30 years (PRODUCE 017-92-PE), prohibiting any type of industrial fishing as it is a critical nursery area for many marine species (Mitma et al., 2018) and is a designated area for artisanal or small-scale fishers (PRODUCE 017-92-PE). The situation is getting worse due to the ongoing political instability and widespread corruption in the country (Interview 1). 

Map of MPA
Figure 2. Map of the proposed areas (highlighted in yellow) for the MPA Mar Tropical de Grau. Map elaborated by SERNANP, available at: https://www.sernanp.gob.pe/reserva-nacional-mar-tropical-de-grau/

The area is highly biodiverse and productive, as it is where the warm Equatorial current mixes with the cold Humboldt current (Oceana, 2023). Because of this, many migratory species such as blue whales and shark whales also use this area as feeding grounds. Thus, not only it is an ideal place for fishing but also for tourism and recreational fishing. The area is home to and used by thousands of local small-scale fishers, who have a long and strong cultural relationship with the ocean (Lopez de la Lama et al., 2020). Cultural practices include using low-impact and sustainable fishing gears, such as hook and line while sailing in traditional fishing vessels (De la Puente et al., 2021). Thus, illegal fishing practices taking place in the 5-miles are critical as it directly impact fishers and impacts marine ecosystems through unselective fishing gear and catching juvenile fish (Sueiro and De la Puente, 2015) and subsequently the livelihoods of small-scale fishers (De la Puente et al., 2021). Artisanal fishers have reported decreasing catches and size of fish, and increasingly struggling to catch adequate fish for a viable livelihood (SPDA. 2020; De la Puente et al., 2021). 

Because of the negative impacts experienced by fishers, three communities have self-organized to seek and demand protection for their fishing grounds via the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) (Interview 2). MPAs in Peru allow natural resource users with pre-existing rights, in this case, artisanal fishers continue to catch fish and seafood in allowed areas following MPA zoning (Law No. 26834). These communities are seeking the implementation of an MPA despite the fact that the 5-miles are already legally protected, as current legal enforcement is deficient at best (Mitma et al., 2018), and they feel it would provide an additional layer of protection. The communities include Cabo Blanco, El Nuro, and Los Organos. Since 2016 they have raised awareness through multiple events, such as organizing online petitions, going to Congress to advocate for the creation of the MPA, organizing public marathons, and being spokespersons at different events organized by NGOs, all with little success. Unfortunately, their activism and efforts to create the MPA and defend the ocean have had one impact: increasing small-scale fishers’ vulnerability (SPDA, 2020). It was only a few years ago when fishers would actively report any suspicious activity or vessel fishing within the 5-miles, taking videos and pictures to share with corresponding authorities to support surveillance and enforcement efforts (Interview 2). However, now small-scale fishers are afraid to do such activities as illegal fishers have gained political power to use current laws in their favor or simply send direct threats to those who go against them (Interview 1; Gozzer-Wuest et al., 2021).   

Figure 3. Overlap between MPA and oil concessions. Map from Ojo Publico, available at: https://ojo-publico.com/2279/una-reserva-marina-bloqueada-por-intereses-petroleros 

Illegal fishers have gained power as a tangential benefit of the oil sector lobby (Interview 1). The proposed MPA area would be adjacent to an ongoing offshore oil extraction concession. Thus, oil companies are actively lobbying against the creation of the MPA because they fear this would somehow affect their pre-existing rights (Oceana, 2023). However, there is no legal basis for such concerns, and different environmental experts have given statements that this would not be the case (Estrada, 2020).

Nevertheless, this lobby is quite strong and so far has limited any potential wins for small-scale fishers and the MPA. This scenario has benefited illegal fishers, as small-scale fishers have no governmental authorities that are willing to back them up besides the Ministry of Environment which has little political power. Because of this, fishers are now afraid of reporting illegal activities for fear of repercussions. For instance, one small-scale fisherman was unfairly imprisoned over a bogus charge of being the owner-operator of an illegal trawler that was fishing within the 5 miles (Interview 1). Other fishers received serious death threats for their support of the MPA back in 2022 (interview 2). 

The current political scenario in Peru has led NGOs to become the new advocates for the MPA (Oceana, 2023). However, little has happened in favor of either fishers’ rights to the 5 nautical mile zone or the creation of the MPA. Thus, if nothing changes, illegal fishing operations will continue to threaten the sustainability of small-scale fishing practices and marine ecosystems in the area, while also affecting millions of coastal citizens who rely on seafood for their food security (De la Puente et al., 2020). Political will and support are needed to create the MPA and enforce regulations to stop illegal fishing within the 5-miles. International support here is key, as national authorities are not fulfilling their legal obligations to enforce regulations against illegal industrial fishing in artisanal fishing zones, increase the coverage of marine protected areas in the country, and safeguard marine and coastal ecosystems. Moreover, small-scale fishers need external support to continue to defend their rights and protect their traditional fishing grounds for the benefit of current and future generations.


López de la Lama, R., de la Puente, S. (2023). Small-scale fishers fight against illegal industrial fishing in Northern Peru. N. Bennett & R. López de la Lama (Eds.), The Ocean Defenders Project, https://oceandefendersproject.org 


Christensen, V., De la Puente, S., Sueiro, J.C., Steenbeek, J., and Majluf, P. (2014). Valuing seafood: the Peruvian fisheries sector. Mar. Policy 44, 302-311. 

De la Puente, S., Lopez de la Lama, R., Benavente, S., Sueiro, J.C., and Pauly, D. (2020). Growing into Poverty: Reconstructing Peruvian Small-Scale Fishing Effort Between 1950 and 2018. Front. Mar. Sci. 7:681.

De la Puente, S., Lopez de la Lama, R., Llerena-Cayo, C., Martinez, B., Rey-Cama, G., Christensen, V., Rivera-Ch, M., and Valdes-Velasquez, A. (2022). Adoption of sustainable low-impact fishing practices is not enough to secure sustainable livelihoods and social well-being in small-scale fishing communities. Marine Policy 146, 105321.

Gozzer-Wuest, R., Alonso-Poblacion, E., and Tingley, G. (2021). Identifying priority areas for improvement in Peruvian Fisheries. Marine Policy 129, 104545.

Lopez de la Lama, R., De la Puente, S., Sueiro, J. C., and Chan, K.M.A. (2020). Reconnecting with the past and anticipating the future: A review of fisheries-derived cultural ecosystem services in pre-Hispanic Peru. People and Nature, 1-19.

Mitma, M., Zarbe, K., y Arens, U. (2018). Las cinco millas protegen en realidad nuestros recursos hidrobiologicos? Actualidad Ambiental. Publicado el Viernes 8 de junio. Disponible en: https://www.actualidadambiental.pe/analisis-las-5-millas-marinas-son-en-realidad-una-zona-de-proteccion-de-los-recursos-hidrobiologicos/ 

OCEANA Peru. Las cinco millas del mar peruano y su prooteccion. Disponible en: https://peru.oceana.org/campanas/las-5-millas/ 

OCEANA Peru. Por un verdadero Mar Tropical de Grau. Published on June 14, 2023. Available at: https://peru.oceana.org/blog/por-un-verdadero-mar-tropical-de-grau/ 

Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental – SPDA (2020). Guia legal para la defensa de los ecosistemas y especies del mar peruano. Lima: SPDA. Available at: https://biblioteca.spda.org.pe/biblioteca/catalogo/_data/20200826111922_Guia-legal-mar-peruano%20y%20anexos-Actualizado.pdf 

Sueiro, J.C., and De la Puente, S. (2015). La pesca artesanal en el Perú: Diagnóstico de la actividad pesquera artesanal peruana. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359513196_La_pesca_artesanal_en_el_Peru_Diagnostico_de_la_actividad_pesquera_artesanal_peruana 



Declines of Biodiversity, Degradation of Ecosystems, Fish Abundance and Productivity , Local communities, Small-scale fishers , Ilegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fisheries , Awareness and communication campaigns, Monitoring and enforcement, Public protests and demonstrations , Arrests and Imprisonment, Threats and Harassment , Food Security, Tenure and Access, Traditional and SSF livelihoods

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