Conservation Takes Back Seat to Indonesian Fishermen at Doha Meeting
Fidelis E Satriastanti
The interests of the country’s fishermen ultimately won out over endangered sharks when Indonesia voted during an international meeting last week to decide on protection measures and trade rules for a wide range of plant and animal species.
“We need to look closely at the impact on people’s welfare, especially fishermen, and also sociocultural issues,” said Suharsono, a senior marine researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
Indonesia, along with China and Singapore, supported Japan at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference in Doha, Qatar, to rule out proposals for tighter trade restrictions on four species of shark — the scalloped hammerhead, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and spiny dogfish.
Suharsono, who was a delegate at the CITES meeting, said stricter regulations would have affected incomes and livelihoods in fishing communities across the country, which is a major exporter of shark products — primarily shark fin.
“Additionally, we don’t have fishermen focusing on catching sharks. Most of the catches are usually by accident, with sharks happening to be caught along with tuna,” he said.
An estimated 250 shark species can be found in Indonesian waters — about half of all species around the world.
According to Suharsono, the new restrictions would have required extra monitoring at ports because sharks were often chopped up and sold in pieces, making it difficult to identify which species were being caught. “Can you imagine how much money would have to be spent to have such technology?” he said.
Imam Musthofa Zainudin, a coordinator with WWF-Indonesia, meanwhile, said sharks should have been listed with CITES expressly because it would not have directly affected Indonesian fishing communities who regard sharks as a side catch.
“Indonesian fishermen are very pragmatic. If they don’t have any tuna then they will keep the sharks they catch, but if they have plenty of tuna they will let sharks go because we don’t even eat sharks,” he said. “There has been a misperception that Indonesia has become the largest exporter because fishermen hunt sharks, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Richard Thomas, communications coordinator at TRAFFIC International, said the CITES listing would have helped fisheries management keep shark catches within sustainable limits.
“Currently, there is a free-for-all, with many species in severe decline because of overfishing for their high-value fins and meat,” Thomas said, adding that shark numbers in some areas around the world had declined by more than 90 percent.