Using the slogan #PescaSiPetroleoNo, community and environmental leaders, as well as representatives from fishing unions, have this month staged new protests at exploratory drilling for oil off the north Pacific coast. These protests follow last year’s concession to British-Irish oil company Tullow Oil in Bloc Z-64.

Concerns in Piura and Tumbes regions have been heightened by news of the arrival of a Stena Forth drilling boat in Peruvian waters and by Petroperú’s announcement that drilling is about to begin. Locals fear for the negative environmental impacts that oil production could bring.

Protests began on 14 January in Cancas (in Tumbes region) with the blocking of a key local highway. At Paita (further south in Piura region), the secretary-general of the local fisherman’s union, Oswaldo Cruz Villegas, explained in a radio interview that “the decision to paralyse [activities] was taken in order to tell the government that so long as there is no social licence to begin drilling it [the government] is going against the artisanal fishing sector. They cannot operate over and above an entire region” he is quoted as saying.

Aristides Chuyes, the vice president of the Coordinadora Provincial del Puerto de Paita, also explained that associates are trying to defend their sea not only for themselves but for others as well. “They want fishing for the future. We don’t want oil for 15 years and then [if fishing is affected] what are we going to eat?” he said.

For his part, a representative of the NGO Oceana has pointed to the dangers from oil exploration when emergencies occur and the lack of capacity of the Peruvian state to deal adequately with the sort of emergencies caused by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Stena Forth drilling vessel is due to be stationed in the sea off Tumbes, an area referred to as Marina 1-X. Drilling was due to take approximately 30 days. It is said to be the most significant deep-water drilling ever carried out in Peru.

Not everyone appears to be against oil activities, however. Some fishermen in Tumbes appear to be supportive. Julio Calero, the president of the local branch of the National Association of Artisanal Fishing Companies (Anepap) has stated that fisherman have benefitted from oil platforms belonging to Frontera Energy. He claims that these are hosts of marine life. According to Chuyes, such voices have been “bought off” by foreign companies.

Still, environmental concerns are evident. Many people fear that future oil exploitation will cause the destruction of the maritime ecosystem, thereby endangering the livelihoods of coastal communities. Community leaders and environmentalists are demanding that the Peruvian government suspend the drilling activities until the new Congress (elected this weekend) can include in the proposed Hydrocarbons Law sufficient safeguards to protect the environment and people’s livelihoods