On 12 April 2023, Peru’s National Congress approved some amendments to the 1992 General Fisheries Law. These amendments have important implications for fisheries management and conservation within the 5-mile zone, especially for the activities of Peru’s artisanal fisheries for which this zone is reserved.

Fisheries productivity in Peru is very high. With almost 3,300 km of coastline along the eastern South Pacific – the location of the Humboldt Current and associated large upwelling system – Peru ranks among the top five countries with the largest fish catches in the world. All these catches are taken within the waters under its jurisdiction, within its 200-miles exclusive economic zone.

Peru also has important artisanal fisheries, with a wide diversity of fishing activities, and employing the largest number of people engaged in fishing and related activities. Such activities provide 80% of employment in fishing and more than 50% of the income generated by all Peruvian fishing activities. It is one thing to describe the Peruvian fishery in terms of tonnes caught, but quite another to account for the employment, income and food it provides by itself, as well as by activities that depend on it.

The first five nautical miles are recognised as an area of great importance for the reproduction and breeding of multiple coastal species, and for this reason, since the beginning of the 1990s, it has been an area where the fishing activities of the industrial fleets (the most numerous being the purse-seine fleet, which catches anchovy for fishmeal, and a small trawler fleet that catches hake for frozen export) have been restricted.

The General Fisheries Law, enacted in 1992, needs to be updated, and this is a process that fishers’ organisations and Peruvian civil society have been pushing for several years and which has been responded to in recent months in the Congress of the Republic.

Although it was not possible to approve a text that completely updates the law, on 12 April the plenary of the Congress approved some amendments to the law.

First and foremost, the amended law reclassifies fishing fleets into three categories: large-scale or industrial, median-scale (“menor escala”) and artisanal, instead of the current classification into two categories as industrial and artisanal. Over time, there has been a significant expansion of an artisanal, semi-industrial purse-seine fleet that catch within five miles without restriction, catching undersize fish, disturbing the sea bed and interfering with the activities of inshore artisanal fishers who use different, more selective fishing methods.

Second, there is an amendment to protect the five miles by establishing two restrictions: the industrial fleet will not be allowed to fish within the five miles in any place or under any circumstances (Even though there is the restriction mentioned at the beginning, exceptions have been made in the past on the south coast, which will no longer be possible). The other restriction is that the newly re-classified median-scale vessels, a new category, that mechanically retrieve the nets will be restricted from fishing within three miles. The Ministry of Production will evaluate areas and gears where differentiated measures can be established. The fisheries authorities will also be responsible for controlling activities in the 5-mile zone with the aid of a yet-to-be installed vessel monitoring system (VMS) backed by financial sanctions for offenders.

While this is an important victory for the artisanal fishers, it is not yet definitive. The Executive will scrutinise the legal bill and the Congress will then discuss whether to accept their observations or not, and vote on it again. In the meantime, the lobbies affected by this protection have been, and continue to be, very active. These include both the fishing industry and an unexpected ally, the board of FIUPAP (the weakened and now-discredited National Federation of Artisanal Fishermen) which, abandoning its roots and identity of defending artisanal fishermen, has prioritised the interests of smaller-scale fishing companies.