Peru Enacts Protections for World's Largest Manta Ray Population

It is now illegal to fish for giant oceanic manta rays in Peruvian waters. Jon Hanson via Wikimedia Commons

Peru has the largest population of oceanic manta rays (Manta birostris) in the world, and as of December 31 it is now illegal to remove them from the ocean.

The country's Ministry of Production ruled that the fish cannot be intentionally targeted by fishermen, and if they are accidentally caught, they must be returned to the water immediately. The text of the resolution was published in Peru's official daily newspaper, El Peruano.

The ruling follows a year of lobbying by environmental groups. The cause gained significant support after an enormous manta ray was accidentally entangled in a fishing line in April off the Peruvian coast. That manta ray, thought to be about 23 feet wide and weighing 2,200 pounds, made headlines around the globe.

Besides being accidentally killed, the fish are harvested in several places worldwide for their gill plates—thin pieces of cartilage that help rays filter plankton out of the water. The plates are sought after in China for their supposed medicinal value.

"My team and I are extremely proud to have generated legal action for the protection of giant oceanic manta rays in Peru, [and] our ultimate goal is to achieve sustainable fisheries and sustainable consumption in benefit of future generations," said Jesús Eloy Barrientos Ruiz of the Ministry of Production, in a statement.

Giant or oceanic manta rays grow very slowly and seldom reproduce, meaning that it will take a long time to rebuild populations that have been depleted worldwide, says Peter Knights, CEO of the environmental group WildAid, in a release. But the new resolution is a good start, he adds. "Peru's new level of protection is vital to their survival and paves the way for the development of a sustainable manta ray tourism industry, which globally generates $140 million every year," Knights says.