By: Ahmad Mukminin
It is not quite 10 a.m. on a typical fishing day in Aceh, and Muhajir and his crew prepare to go out to sea to check if there are sharks caught on their longlines. Today, they are in luck: a medium size Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) has been caught. As the fin price for Bull Shark can fetch USD$450, and the shark body up to USD$50, this single catch could match 20 days of fishing of lesser valued species.
The fins are sold to traders who then trade them on to Medan for export, about 430 km south-west of Banda Aceh. The shark body is bought by domestic buyers who use the meat for a range of dishes, in particular “Shark Bakso” or shark meat balls, which are sold as a street food “delicacy”.
Muhajir is part of the Aceh Islands fishing community, a group of islands which lie some 14 km to the northwest of Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh Province, Sumatra. Muhajir lives at the southern end of Breuh Island (one of the 2 largest islands), in Gugop Village, where around 65% of inhabitants were killed during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The 12 villages of Breuh Island have been rebuilt over the past 5 years.
From 2004 to 2006, there were no boats available for fishing as all had been destroyed by the tsunami. By 2007, the communities began to receive boats from a range of international and national agencies, and Muhajir started to fish again. Muhajir’s story is common to many of the fishers that survived the tsunami.
Before, they fished for lobster among the shallow reefs, diving on compressed air and used cyanide to flush the lobster from reef crevices. After the tsunami, Muhajir learnt shark fishing techniques from older fishermen who had been displaced from their villages to the south. With the return of boats and availability of long-line fishing gears they started to catch shark for the first time in 2007.
From a single fishing trip during the west monsoon season (July-September, the best time to catch shark), a group of 3 shark fishers can earn up to US$500 per week, five times the income of fishers who do not fish for shark. Shark fins in the Banda Aceh market fetch US$50 per kg for Silver Tip Shark (Charcharhinus cuvier) and US$122 per kg for the White Spot Guitar Fish (Rynchobatus djiddensis).
The marine waters of the province of Aceh now host one of the largest shark fisheries in Indonesia. The fishery is largely uncontrolled, with few if any rules in place to control fishing impacts on species, spawning grounds or shark catches. Muhajir is aware of the impacts he may be having on the shark populations. In just 5 years, his shark catches have fallen, and nowadays he can only catch 1-3 sharks per week.
WCS is working closely with these fishers and government agencies to promote sustainable fishing practices for shark and ray, and developing an action plan for the Aceh-Weh Seascape that addresses key strategies of the Indonesian National Plan of Action for Shark and Rays. Fisheries agencies are now using a Shark Fisheries Monitoring Protocol developed by the Aceh Department of Fisheries and Marine Affairs, WCS, WWF, FFI, Syiah Kuala University, and Abulyatama University to collect information on shark and ray landings at 6 ports in Aceh.
The data will be used to develop new regulations for shark and ray fisheries in Aceh province. This is being done in cooperation with local traditional fishery institutions and laws, the Panglima Laot, who be involved in the design and support for new shark fishing regulations that emerge from this work. With the landmark CITES decision in March 2013 to protect 3 species of sharks and 2 species of ray from unregulated trade, we will work with governments and fishers like Muhajir to establish some of the first measures for shark and ray protection in Aceh.