On December 31, 2015, Peru’s Ministry of Production passed a resolution banning fishing of manta rays, according to a release by WildAid, a nonprofit organization. The regulation also mandates, among other requirements, that all mantas caught as bycatch be immediately released back into the ocean. According to WildAid, the text of the resolution was published in Peru’s official daily newspaper El Peruano.

Peru and Ecuador waters have the world’s largest known population of giant manta rays, according to conservation nonprofit Manta Trust. In 2010, Ecuador agreed to protect Manta rays, and Peru’s new regulation will strengthen protection for the manta ray populations in the South East Pacific.

“My team and I are extremely proud to have generated legal action for the protection of giant oceanic manta rays in Peru through this Ministerial Resolution,” Jesús Eloy Barrientos Ruiz, Director of Supervision and Fiscalization of the Ministry of Production, said in a statement. “We thus highlight our commitment to promote positive change within our fisheries sector. Our ultimate goal is to achieve sustainable fisheries and sustainable consumption in benefit of future generations.”

Manta rays (Manta alfredi and Manta birostris), typically found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, are closely related to sharks and rays. These species are migratory in nature, and are severely threatened by entanglement in fishing lines and gill nets. In April 2015, for instance, a fisherman in Peru accidentally caught a massive manta ray weighing around 2,000 pounds, drawing criticism from conservationists and scientists.

Chinese traditional medicine trade also threatens manta ray populations. Local Chinese retailers believe that manta ray gill plates can cure diseases like chickenpox, increase breast milk, detoxify blood, among other benefits, according to the New York Times. But a save-the-mantas-campaign by WildAid seems to be garnering support from the Chinese government, and conservationists are hopeful that the government will ban the trade of gill plates soon.

Over the last decade, manta ray populations have severely declined, conservationists say. These animals are listed as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and listed on Appendix I and II under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

“Manta rays reproduce very, very slowly, and can be impacted by even limited fishing. Peru’s new level of protection is vital to their survival and paves the way for the development of a sustainable manta ray tourism industry, which globally generates $140 million every year,” WildAid CEO Peter Knights said in the statement.

Several other countries have passed regulations for the protection of manta rays, including the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, Philippines, Yap, Hawaii, and Ecuador.

Peru’s new regulation does not protect mobula rays that belong to the same taxonomic family as the manta rays.

Article by Shreya Dasgupta, source: Mongabay