Oil spill threatens small-scale fisheries livelihoods in Peru

On January 15, 2022, thousands of barrels of crude oil spilled from a refinery off the coast of Lima, Peru caused by strong waves triggered by the volcanic eruption in Tonga. Since then, the lives and livelihoods of thousands of small-scale, artisanal fishermen who rely on the fish they catch close to the shore for their income have been negatively impacted.

This month's SSF Highlight spotlights Juan Carlos Sueiro, Fisheries Director at Oceana Peru, who has been involved with providing support to the coastal communities affected by the oil spill.

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Images of oil spill in Peru
What kind of support has Oceana’s team provided coastal communities in Peru?

Support with advocacy to modify and/or create regulations for fisheries sustainability and information and scientific support socio-economic evidence 

What types of challenges are coastal communities experiencing as a result of the oil spill? How is the oil spill affecting the livelihoods of these communities?

Those affected include artisanal fishers and people involved in related activities in landing and transport, mainly to Lima. The most affected are coastal fishers, both those who fish from boats and from the shore and they carry out this activity along the entire Peruvian coast. The oil spill has affected the beaches in 5 districts. This expanse of coast measures 30 km (the coast is uneven, we have used a straight line measurement).

There is a coastal fishing area that is difficult to reach in order to remove the oil accumulated on rocks and very small beaches. A large body of sand and rock, 15 km in length, restricts access to this beach. However, the waters in front of this body are used by fishers. This area will be the most severely impacted in the long term.

At Oceana, we have estimated the "beach price" value of the Ancon and Chancay fisheries.

REPSOL has agreed to pay up to 3,000 soles to each fisher as the first payment of compensation, although the final value of compensation has not yet been defined, nearly two months after the spill.

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People spraying water from hoses to wash off crude oil

Others affected are local providers of services to summer visitors (tourism). Less is known about how many they are or the economic damage they have suffered as they have no presence in the media. It's estimated that roughly the same number of local providers and artisanal fisherfolk are affected.

There are also impacts on the ecosystems and wildlife in the area including protected islands and islets, cliffs, and rocky and sandy beaches. These areas sustain a high level of fish diversity, as well as birds and marine mammals.

The spill occurred at the beginning of the high season for these economic activities (fishing and tourism), but the severity of the environmental damage has not yet been fully assessed. An evaluation must be made for each impacted species regarding their stage of life at the time of the spill and the attendant vulnerability (e.g., reproduction, molting, etc.).

What are your concerns about the long-term effects of the oil spill?

Some experts involved in monitoring spills in other places report traces of oil several years after the spills they monitor have already occurred.

What type of support would you like to see from the government?

The Peruvian government should provide information to those affected by the spill about their options, about the roles and responsibilities of diverse state actors, and the responsibility of the company as well as emergency aid.

What do you think the government’s role is in this emergency?

The state response was slow and uncoordinated and little emergency support was provided to fisherfolk. In addition, information was not provided to clarify that emergency support is not in lieu of economic compensation. The Peruvian environmental system must be reviewed; it does not work - either to foresee damage or to act once damage has occurred.

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People cleaning up oil spill in Peru
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Bags of crude oil in Ventanilla, Peru

Thank you to Juan Carlos Sueiro and Rafael Tapia at Oceana Peru for their contributions to this month's SSF Highlight.


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This article is part of the SSF Highlights series of articles published regularly to the SSF Hub. Use the links below to read previous SSF Highlights.

March 2022: Women in Small-Scale Fisheries

February 2022: Meet the Fishers of Eastern Samar, Philippines

January 2022: SSF Hub: 2021 In Review

December 2021: Fisher Voices on COVID-19, Session II: Adapting to the pandemic 

November 2021: Without safety nets: Small-scale fishers need urgent support and recognition

October 2021: Fisher Voices on COVID-19

August 2021: Näätämö River Collaborative Management

July 2021: San Pedro Photography Contest: sharing photos and stories.

June 2021: Summary of a recent study on trends in World Bank aid to small-scale fisheries over 50 yearSummary of a recent study on trends in World Bank aid to small-scale fisheries over 50 year

May 2021: Passion forges success: An interview with Ryan Nienaber

April 2021: Fisheries resilience in the Humboldt Current: one step closer to achieving sustainability

March 2021: Hearing and empowering women in a changing world

February 2021: Advancing Adaptive Fisheries Management in Cuba

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