Península Valdés, Argentina: A World Heritage Site for whom?

A 'Blue Justice Alert' story*

Written By Marta Piñeiro
San José Gulf, credits: Luis de Francesco, artisanal fisher

On Peninsula Valdes, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, various economic, social and cultural activities coexist. The area is enriched by a diversity of attributes that make it attractive and valued as a common good for all mankind. While most of the land is privately owned and traditionally used for sheep ranching, the two gulfs delimited by the peninsula and all coastal areas are public domain.

The Península Valdés Natural Protected Area (category VI, IUCN) includes among its objectives the “Promotion of sustainable activities compatible with conservation, such as tourism, artisanal fisheries and livestock raising”. Thus, fishers are fully entitled to carry out their work within the protected area. 

However, this is only a mirage. While some private sectors are privileged and have benefited enormously with the expansion of tourism fostered by the World Heritage Site designation, others are constantly marginalized, their rights being violated even under the pretext of applying the law.

The public agencies, in charge of applying the legal norms and responsible for the correct functioning of all activities, have a particular bias against artisanal fishing.

For years fishers themselves have complained about the constant poaching that threatens the survival of the artisanal fishery but only on rare occasions have the authorities taken action to end this illegal activity. Furthermore, every time the sector complained about the inaction of public agencies, the registered fishers were subject to inspections, restrictions or compulsory fines that have acted as a kind of punishment, while poachers were left untouched.

In addition, since about two years ago a landowner from Península Valdés began to implement extreme actions against the artisanal fishing sector, not only threatening the continuity of the fishing activity but also affecting the whole community that inhabits and visits the area.

In his eagerness to enforce his plans, the landowner has dug trenches (30 to 50 meters long, two meters deep) to block fishers’ access to their fishing zones, in what he considers to be "his land and his right", causing irreparable damage to the area and infringing the right to access the beach.

 Photos: October 2021 at Villarino Beach, Peninsula Valdés. Source: Diario Jornada and Revista Puerto.

Closely related to these actions, in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, one of the beaches where the fishers have their operational homes, and where only three fishing families live permanently, was the scene of a police raid, with the presence of judicial officials and officers of the Prefectura Naval Argentina (Argentine Naval Prefecture).

The raid was "justified" on the basis of a claim made by the same landowner who assured that he was missing cattle and, without any proof or precise grounds, the agents entered the fishers' homes in a violent manner, without Covid-19 protection (mask or chinstrap), and seized elements consigned as "possible evidence", which were nothing more than utensils used for fishing or cooking (knives).

This indicates a bias in the justice system: while fishers are being harassed, the landowner continues to act with impunity, destroying the natural habitat, So far, no exemplary sanction has been imposed to show a fair and equitable action by a provincial State that must protect unique assets that are common to all present and future citizens.

It does not take clairvoyance to see that if these unpunished behaviors by those who feel they have more rights over others are not stopped, a break point will be reached. The most damaging consequence in the short term will be the rupture of the social agreements made between different sectors through decades of hard work aimed to protect the common good.

This could lead to a loss of achievements and values constructed through a process in which the community resigned individual interests in favor of transcendent collective objectives, something that would be difficult to rebuild once good faith and trust have been broken.

It is imperative that the provincial government, as guarantor of the aforementioned agreements, quickly implements control mechanisms and sanctions against the illegal actions of privileged sectors or individuals. Artisanal fishers, who have the right to fish within the Peninsula Valdés reserve, have been persecuted in violation of even the most basic human rights and this needs to stop.

San José Gulf, credits: Dra. Ana Cinti (CESIMAR CENPAT)



Marta Piñeiro

is a social entrepreneur living in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, who has collaborated in the dissemination and institutional communication of artisanal fishing activities, culture and issues. She was an elected member of the directive commission of the Association of Artisanal Fishers of Puerto Madryn during two consecutive periods (2000-2004).

*Contribute your Blue Justice Alert Story!

We are inviting small-scale fishers and the wider small-scale fisheries community to send short stories depicting current challenges affecting small-scale fisheries, with a particular focus on social injustice and inequity issues. These stories will be posted online as part of the TBTI newest project 'Blue Justice Alert: An Interactive Platform for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries’.