Segmenting certain areas of the seas and oceans to spare the rare species from fishing is an idea that has been adopted at many places in the world. But in Indonesia the idea is backfiring as poachers try and loot the same marine protected areas. Last week authorities caught 33 illegal poachers who had with them sharks, manta rays and sea urchins. But after confiscating their loot, the authorities had to let the men go.
The recent incident at Indonesia’s Kawe Marine Protected Area has angered conservationists as well as locals. In 2005 the residents of several part of the sea side area called the Bird’s Head seascape which has a number of marine protected areas, had agreed to cut back fishing to rebuild the depleted fish stocks. Kawe has no fishing in 97 percent of the reserve and ranks as Southeast Asia’s largest no-take reserve. But without adequate enforcement the move is backfiring.
Ketut Sarjana Putra, executive director of the advocacy groupConservation International in Indonesia said,
“The villagers are capable of managing their local resources,” “They don’t have enough capacity to do very good enforcement and patrol.”
The poached sharks, manta rays and sea cucumbers were worth $160,000. There is a big asian market for these sea creatures. In China shark fin soup is a delicacy and in Japan sea cucumbers are eaten with relish. Indonesia has still one of the largest shark fishing industries though shark fishing is banned in all of the protected areas.
“The government should impose heavy penalties to the shark finners,” said Hengky Gaman, leader of indigenous people of the territory of Raja Ampat. “They have stolen from an area we protect.”
Conservation International provides $200,000 to fund patrolling in this region. Last week’s patrol team had six community members, two Indonesian naval officers and a local police officer. They confiscated illegal long-line fishing gear and air compressors. But they could not take over the poacher’s boats and when the team asked the boat men to follow them to the shore, they fled.
After the incident the Indonesian navy plans to boost its patrolling.
As per the experts Bird’s Head Seascape boasts of at least 1,350 fish species, 700 mollusks and 540 species of hard coral. In comparison the entire Caribbean, has one-tenth as many coral species. Now as the fish population is rebounding it is attracting fishing vessels from outside the region.
“The site is remote, and from the fishermen’s perspective, this is the only fish stock in the eastern part of Indonesia that’s still healthy,” Kave said. “The only problem we see here is the outsiders.”
The problem is not just in Indonesia. Julia Baum, an assistant professor at British Columbia’s University of Victoria studied that in recent decades reef sharks in the Pacific have declined to almost 90 percent. During her research she routinely observed fishing vessel in U.S. waters near Kiritimati atoll in the northern Line Islands. They employed locals to cut shark fins.
“The reserves are not good if they’re not well enforced,” said National Geographic explorer-in-residence Enric Sala, who has also worked in the Line Islands. “permanent presence is not practical” and authorities have to rely on remote-sensing satellites.
On the other hand, in areas where locals have a strong enforcement, poaching has been stopped. Sala and his team conducted a ten year long research at Cabo Pulmo National Park in Mexico’s Baja California, and found that the region showed 460 percent increase in the total amount of fish in its reserve between 1999 and 2009.
“Those guys are out there every day — by being there, it’s a deterrent,” Sala said. “So peer pressure and local enforcement without help from government agencies is also possible.”
It is certain that protection is not possible unless it is accompanied with constant vigilance.