New research led by the University of Oxford, published in Conservation Letters, has examined the conflict between small-scale fisheries and marine mammals, using the experience of fisheries on the west coast of South America to highlight a worldwide issue.

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Globally, conflict between recovering seal and sea lion populations and fishing communities has been escalating. This new research presents a unique overview of this conflict, particularly from the fishers’ perspective, and proposes solutions that will be relevant to many fishing communities around the world.

In this part of South America, specifically Peru and Chile, marine mammals have been protected since the mid-20th century. Conservation policies have mostly been successful and over the last thirty years marine mammal populations - specifically those of sea lions and seals - have recovered.

The study found:

• Nearly 9 out of 10 fishers have a negative impression of sea lions.

• Fishers report that on average sea lions reduce their catch and income by over 50%.

• Whilst it’s illegal for sea lions and seals to be killed, this is happening regularly with over 70% of fishers admitting that sea lions are being killed to defend catches.

• Fishers’ overwhelming concern is that sea lion populations are now too large.

To manage this conflict, there’s a need to balance the competing objectives of wildlife conservation with protection for local communities. There’s still concern about sea lion and seal populations because of how recently they’ve recovered, but small-scale fisheries are struggling, and fishers are often earning less than the minimum wage.

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