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Researchers Work on Methods to Stop Global Marine Life Conflict

Across the globe, there has been an increase in the conflict between the recovering seal and sea lion population and fishing communities. A new study offers an exclusive outline of this conflict, specifically from the perspective of fishermen. It also offers a solution relevant to several fishing communities worldwide.

Researchers Work on Methods to Stop Global Marine Life Conflict.
Sea lion depredation. Image Credit: University of Oxford.

In the research location in South America, particularly Chile and Peru, marine mammals have been protected since the mid-20th century. Conservation policies have majorly been beneficial, and in the last three decades, marine populations of mammals, particularly those of the sea lions and seals, have recovered.

The study observed that:

  • A major concern of the fishers is the extremely large sea lion population
  • While it is illegal to kill sea lions and seals, fishermen have admitted the killing of sea lions to protect their catches
  • Almost 9 out of 10 fishermen have a negative view of sea lions
  • Fishermen state that on average, sea lions lower their catch and income by over 50%

To manage this conflict, there is a requirement to maintain the competing mottos of wildlife conservation with protection for local communities. There are still concerns regarding sea lions and seal populations due to how recently they have recovered. However small-scale fisheries are struggling too and fishermen are often earning lower than their minimum wage.

The international community needs to combine the need and views of fishermen in the global dialogue, also considering whether human welfare could reduce the protection for marine mammals.

If the global community is committed to a post-2020 deal for nature and people where improvements to people’s wellbeing and nature conservation are both fulfilled — the elusive ‘win-win’ — then governments and scientists must engage with these ‘messy’ local conflicts that repeat across the globe but resist high-level simplification.

Katrina Davis, Professor, University of Oxford

Davis added, “The recovery of marine mammals means that there’s a much higher likelihood that these animals will come into conflict with local fishers.”

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

By learning the motivation and views of the fishermen, it is possible to develop more effective management solutions for fisheries. This includes managing sea lion populations, offering financial compensation for catch losses and gear damage, training courses and information from fishing to eco-tourism.

A tricky balance must be met between ensuring the future viability of marine mammal populations and ensuring that the livelihoods of small-scale fishers are protected. Fishers perceive that they are suffering large catch and income losses because of sea lions — and it’s these perceptions that we have to manage when we’re developing policy solutions.

Katrina Davis, Professor, University of Oxford

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

Journal Reference:

Davis, K. J., et al. (2021) Local disconnects in global discourses—The unintended consequences of marine mammal protection on small-scale fishers. Conservation Letters.

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