Researchers work on methods to stop global conflict over marine life


Around the world, there has been an increase in conflict between the recovering seal and sea lion population and fishing communities. A new study offers exclusive insight into this conflict, especially from the perspective of fishermen. It also offers a relevant solution for several fishing communities around the world.

Sea lion depredation. Image credit: University of Oxford.

In the research site in South America, especially Chile and Peru, marine mammals have been protected since the mid-20e century. Conservation policies have been of great benefit, and over the past three decades marine mammal populations, particularly sea lions and seals, have recovered.

The study observed that:

  • One of the main concerns of fishermen is the very large population of sea lions
  • Although it is illegal to kill sea lions and seals, fishermen have admitted to killing sea lions to protect their catch
  • Almost 9 out of 10 fishermen have a negative view of sea lions
  • Fishermen say sea lions on average reduce their catch and income by more than 50%

To manage this conflict, it is necessary to maintain the competing currencies of wildlife conservation and protection of local communities. There are still concerns about sea lion and seal populations due to their recent recovery. However, artisanal fishing is also in difficulty and fishermen often earn less than their minimum wage.

The international community must combine the needs and views of fishermen in the global dialogue, also asking whether human well-being could reduce the protection of marine mammals.

If the global community is committed to a deal for nature and people after 2020, where improvements in human well-being and nature conservation are both realized – the elusive “win-win” “- then governments and scientists must engage in these” messy “local conflicts which repeat across the world but resist high level simplification.

Katrina Davis, Professor, University of Oxford

Davis added: “The recovery of marine mammals means there is a much higher likelihood of these animals coming into conflict with local fishermen.. “

Seals and sea lions consume the same fish targeted by fisheries. This creates competition between the three. It is not uncommon for fisheries to catch fish that have already been “stung” by marine mammals. They can even get caught in fishing nets by mistake, breaking the nets. This implies that the fisheries have to spend money to replace the equipment.

By learning the motivation and opinions of fishermen, it is possible to develop more effective management solutions for the fishery. This includes managing sea lion populations, providing financial compensation for loss of catches and damage to gear, training courses and information ranging from fishing to eco-tourism.

A delicate balance must be struck between ensuring the future viability of marine mammal populations and ensuring that the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen are protected. Fishermen perceive that they suffer significant losses in catch and income from sea lions – and it is these perceptions that we must manage when we develop policy solutions..

Katrina Davis, Professor, University of Oxford

In the future, the team plans to analyze the influence of culls on interactions, whether it would be viable without harming population levels, as well as whether it would stop aggression against marine mammals.

Journal reference:

Davis, KJ, et al. (2021) Local Disconnections in Global Discourses – The Unintended Consequences of Marine Mammal Protection on Small-Scale Fishers. Letters of conservation.



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