This is quite a workplace experience for me. It happened last week. Three fishers who were finning sharks were arrested and brought to the patrol station. What followed is now I consider my first exposure to the process of law enforcement for shark conservation in Raja Ampat as a junior conservation researcher.
Shark Conservation in Indonesia: A Brief Perspective on Local Shark Protection in Raja Ampat MPA Network, West Papua
Shark finning is quite popular in every layer of fishers in Indonesia, from artisanal small-scale fishers to big commercial trawlers. Rampant shark fining, both from targeted fisheries and bycatch, undoubtedly exert a huge pressure on shark population across Indonesia’s waters. We know, shark population in Indonesia is down to more than 90 percent over the last 10 years. Continuous research to assess the population status of shark species along with non-stop campaigns involved many role-model artists resulted in legal provisions to be enforced in many regions for several years, but still requires proper implementation and evaluation.
As the home of coral triangle region, Indonesia’s seas host approximately 118 species of sharks, and the concern of protecting all those have become a priority. In Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area network, my workplace, the efforts in conserving marine ecosystem and elasmobranch species particularly sharks and manta rays are paramount because marine environment lies close to the heart of communities. Sharks particularly have been protected under local jurisdiction. The development of technology, strong engagement with local communities, stakeholders, industries and other relevant parties made it possible to establish one of the largest Marine Protected Area in Indonesia.
It took more than 17 years for Conservation International and other organizations to create a strong foundation of science, livelihood options and policy solutions in succeeding the sustainable use of resources under the Bird’s Head Seascape project initiative. The impact was positive as many local communities have harvested the fruit of this long-tireless initiative, and eventually, local people have become the steward in protecting their marine environment as their homes and responsibly taking care of it since then.
And last week, three shark fishers were arrested here. The fishers came under suspicion after local villagers reported that they were drying shark fins and meat on their long-line boat. Local ranger patrol then was invited to follow up the situation. Although by then, the fishers discarded all the evidence including fins and meats to the ocean right after they recognized the local ranger were chasing after them.
The fishers were brought to the nearby village, Pam Village and all the communities were outraged and insisted to directly punish them with corporal punishment. But the local ranger successfully convinced the villagers to wait for Marine Police Officer to proceed further. The fishers were interrogated and directly deliberated because the Police believed they carried little evidence to fall them off with the available law. The Police claimed they could not be arrested without any material evidence.
When Local Ranger Patrol explained that they capsized long-lines with 65 hooks on their boat as well as a spear which the fishers admitted being used for stabbing dolphins as bait. But the Police retired from taking further action and surrendered the case to the customary law (‘hukumadat’ in Indonesian) of the Village. The fishers were then sanctioned by paying a certain amount of money to replace the loss they have made; however, no amount is quite equal compare to the sharks they have illegally finned from the waters of Raja Ampat which worth perhaps millions for tourism in the area only.
This incident is the proof that even strong scientific information translated into policy to protect shark has its own challenge at local contexts. The clearer system of punishment, the integrity of enforcer and the effectiveness of regulation that prevents other people of repeating the same action are very important. These need to be evaluated and ensured that the regulation is there to protect shark species effectively.
On the national level, only Whale shark has been brought under the legal protection, and selling any body parts of shark is prohibited. Despite the fact that other shark species are regularly caught as bycatch, no regulation has made due to lack of economic interest in protecting the species. Sharks, however, could gain a special attention if they have value for tourism, more precisely marine recreational activities like diving, snorkeling and shark watching. For instance, the mere existence of Whale Sharks could bring economic incentives from tourism, which makes it easier for local communities to be the part of conservation effort. Other than that, it is harder to put the spotlight on particular shark species of conservation interest.
I believe the protection of shark is more like fragments that only cover a small range of species in small geographic boundaries, such as in Raja Ampat. Somehow the practical implementation could be the real deal in achieving holistic “protection” of shark species, not only in Raja Ampat but also in Indonesia nationally.
Rafid Shidqi is a young conservation biologist based in Indonesia. He is currently working with Indonesian Manta Project (affiliate project of the Manta Trust). He may be reached at email@example.com