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Giant Manta Rays: Peru Increases Protection Of World's Largest Population of Them

Jan 10, 2016 07:25 PM EST
Giant Manta Ray
Giant manta rays recently gained federal protection in Peru.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Peru's Ministry of Production recently passed strong regulations banning the fishing of giant manta rays in its waters. This is a crucial step towards protecting the treasured marine creatures, which are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. 

Waters between Peru and Ecuador are home to the world's largest-known population of giant oceanic manta rays, according to the Manta Trust. However, the winged sea creatures are under serious pressures worldwide from accidental bycatch and as fisheries target mantas for their meat and gills, which are are often sold at Asian markets for use in a "health tonic."

The new regulations state that any manta rays accidentally caught in fishing line or nets must immediately be released back into the ocean. With this movement Peru joins a dozen other countries with manta protection laws, including its northern neighbor, Ecuador.

"My team and I are extremely proud to have generated legal action for the protection of giant oceanic manta rays in Peru through this Ministerial Resolution," Jesús Eloy Barrientos Ruiz, Director of Supervision and Fiscalization of the Ministry of Production, said in a news release. "We thus highlight our commitment to promote positive change within our fisheries sector. Our ultimate goal is to achieve sustainable fisheries and sustainable consumption in benefit of future generations." 

Environmental organizations, such as Planeta Océano, WildAid and The Manta Trust, have been advocating for increased protection of giant manta rays and manta tourism for years. When a one-ton giant manta ray with a wingspan of 23 feet was caught last year in gill nets made by Peruvian fisherman, conservationists called for action. 

Manta rays (Manta alfredi and Manta birostris), typically found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, are closely related to sharks and rays. These species are migratory in nature and particularly vulnerable to fishing practices because of their low reproductive rate. On average, adult mantas only produce one pup every two to five years.

"Manta rays reproduce very, very slowly, and can be impacted by even limited fishing," Peter Knights, WildAid's CEO, said in the release. "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."

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