As 2015 was coming to a close, Peru decided to ring in the new year with new protections for the giant manta ray. The new regulations, combined with a growing global effort to protect mantas, may help the species begin to recover from decades of over-exploitation.
The giant manta ray (M. birostris), is the largest living ray in the world, growing up to almost 30 feet in length and weighing up to 2 tons. It also has the largest brain of any fish! Sadly, these remarkable creatures have been on a steep decline, highly vulnerable to targeted take and accidental bycatch. Mantas are fished, caught in nets, even harpooned for their meat, liver, and gill rakers, which all command a high price on the local and international markets.
Giant mantas can be found in all the world’s major oceans, and are believed to be highly migratory, traveling long distances from one feeding or breeding ground to the next. This migratory lifestyle means that protecting mantas in one place simply won’t be enough. As a global species, they will need global protection – so every new regulation put in place by another country fills in more of the map.
Peru and Ecuador are home to the largest known population of giant manta rays, which is why we are extremely excited about the new regulations announced by Peru at the end of 2015. These regulations (Ministry of Production Resolution 441-2015) ban all fishing, transporting and selling of giant manta rays in Peruvian waters, and require that any giant mantas caught accidentally be immediately released. This is a huge win for the giant manta! Combined with Ecuador’s protections, which were implemented in 2010, Peru’s new regulations mean that the largest population of giant manta rays will now experience a remarkable level of protection.
Peru’s announcement comes as part of a growing movement towards manta ray protection worldwide. Counting Peru, there are now 13 countries with varying levels of protection for manta rays – including Indonesia, which previously hosted some of the largest manta fisheries in the world. International organizations have also recognized the giant manta ray’s need for protection, first in 2011 under the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals and again in 2013 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna. Just last year, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, a regional fishery management organization, banned fishing boats operating in the commission area from catching and keeping manta and devil rays. These combined efforts form the most comprehensive set of protections for mantas to date.
Giant manta rays are truly majestic creatures and they need our continued help to survive. We have worked for many years to protect all species of rays, and we’re continuing to push for more protection of the giant manta ray, including a listing under the Endangered Species Act. We hope that other countries will follow in the footsteps of those that already offer protections for giant manta rays. Only by working together can we truly hope to protect manta rays throughout their range, and put them on the road to recovery.