When fishermen demand a closed season
The Port of Paita harbors the biggest mahi mahi fleet nationwide and perhaps worldwide, since Peru hosts the largest mahi mahi fishery globally. In Paita over 10 thousand families depend directly and directly on fishing activities.
But, why would fishermen demand this closed season? Definitely because they are concerned, since they are witnessing major changes in mahi mahi population. Despite the little scientific and historical information available on this species, an old fisherman tells us about the utmost change he has witnessed over time.
“When the mahi mahi started to arrive to Paita, in the late 80s, I remember that we used to fish it just close by, a couple of hours from the port we found large mahi mahi, enormous ones of up to 18 kg. Now they have gone elsewhere and we are just getting smaller.”
For Cesar Abanto Noriega, President of the Association of Artisanal Shipowners for Direct Human Consumption in Paita (AAARCUDIPA), it is clear who is responsible. “We are responsible of the critical mahi mahi situation. In the past, the fishing season lasted only 4 months, between November and March, when adult mahi mahi were near the coast. However, now the fishing season begins earlier in July, when the species is still far from the coast at 600 miles offshore,” he states.
When economy and ecology meet
Expanding the fishing season is an economic and environmental issue. On one hand, longer fishing trips are required (less profitable since these last 25 days and cost over US$ 7,000); on the other hand, during winter months mahi mahi schools are mainly formed by juveniles which do not have the minimum catch size and have not been able to breed yet, thusly affecting the existence of such species at medium and long terms.
“What we are witnessing regarding the mahi mahi in Paita is the result of different factors, including climate factors which might be changing the warm currents where this species inhabits. Nevertheless, there are also unsustainable practices which damage the species. It is not only about fishing in high seasons with plenty juveniles, but it is also about not respecting the minimum catch size of 70 cm, established by the Ministry, the use of small hooks that catch juveniles and even other species such as marine turtles and sharks,” states Biologist Samuel Amorós, WWF Peru’s Marine Program Coordinator.
On the path to sustainability
A closed season to safeguard the mahi mahi breeding cycle is an important initiative. However, a further step is required to ensure this fishery sustainability. Moreover, it is necessary to change the fishing gears in order to reduce bycatch of other species, and also generate more scientific information.
This has been finally understood by the artisanal fishermen of Paita, who besides asking for a closed season on mahi mahi (May - October), also support the initiative towards achieving a Fishery Improvement Plan, as well as to obtain the MSC certification (Marine Stewardship Council). With the support from the artisanal fishermen of the biggest mahi mahi fleet worldwide, Peru is now closer to ensure a better future for this species and the many families depending on it.
“Strategic fisheries, such as the mahi mahi, must work properly, alongside all the stakeholders involved and under MSC standards, in order to ensure this resources continuity; this a huge step for the mahi mahi, Paita and the entire country” added Amorós.
WWF Peru’s Marine Program works for a healthy and productive sea that provides resources to both Peruvians and future generations. The program is fostering the improvement of key fisheries (mahi mahi) through the MSC certification.