Indonesia has enough to worry about without every visitor coming through Soekarno-Hatta International Airport seeing that its endangered wildlife is up for sale. There in Terminal 2, alongside places like Starbucks and Duty-Free, is the Crown Toko Hasil Laut, or Crown Marine Product Store, a controversial outlet that proudly boasts the sale of Indonesian-harvested shark fin.
Shark fin, coveted in the Asian market and touted as a powerful aphrodisiac, is responsible for the slaughter of more than 70 million sharks around the world every year. Some estimates reach as high as 100 million sharks a year — that’s 190 sharks a minute.
A quick search on YouTube reveals a number of gruesome videos revealing the manner in which most fins are harvested. Fishermen haul the sharks onto the deck of the boat, quickly slice off the dorsal, pectoral and caudal fins and immediately throw the carcasses back into the ocean, leaving the shark to drown or be eaten alive by other fish.
With one-third of all shark species nearly extinct, it’s hard to imagine how officials could allow a shop like Crown, which sells an array of shark fins, to exist in an airport that saw 51.1 million passengers, or the equivalent of the entire population of South Korea, pass through its doors in 2011.
“It’s a hypocritical statement by our government, which screams that they are involved in all forms of conservation and protection of the environment while they allow such a controversial product to [be sold] within our country’s primary international gateway,” says Muljadi Pinneng, an acclaimed underwater photographer and one of 788 concerned citizens to sign a Change.org petition to stop the sale of shark fin in Crown.
The petition, created by an activist named Glenton Jelbert, is gaining signatures and momentum by the day.
“I thought, firstly this is just crazy,” said Jelbert, who is based in Singapore, but was passing through Jakarta when he saw the store and decided to channel his frustrations into an online petition. “I have nothing against Crown. The shop is acting within the law and just trying to make money. It’s one of those situations where legal does not mean moral. I just don’t want them selling products from endangered species, and shark fin in particular, especially because of the way it’s harvested and because of the brand damage that it does to Indonesia with international eco-tourists coming through.”
But not everyone believes the path to shark conservation begins with asking places like Crown to take shark fin off the shelves.
Peter J. Mous, the fisheries adviser for the USAID-sponsored Indonesian Marine and Climate Support Project, believes villainizing places like Crown is “meaningless.”
“I think it is the responsibility of the government to act to ensure that shark populations stay at a healthy level,” said Mous, who explicitly stated that he is in no way affiliated with the fight against Crown.
Mous quoted official statistics from the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries that estimate the total amount of shark — the entire fish, so not only the fins — caught in 2010 was about 46,000 tons, or about 1 percent of the total volume of marine capture fisheries.
“The community should hold the government responsible for putting regulations in place that achieve this, and the community should take responsibility for making others aware that sharks are being over-exploited,” Mous said. “I also think that a focused action against Crown for selling shark fin is meaningless — Crown is fully legal under the laws of the democratic nation of Indonesia, and they are merely catering for consumers who clearly do not share the concerns of those who are against shark finning.”
Meanwhile, Indonesia is one of the biggest suppliers to the shark fin market. Nearly one-third of the world’s shark species, 15 percent of which live in Indonesian waters, are on the brink of extinction.
Diver and environmentalist Riyanni Djangkaru, who is also the editor in chief of DiveMag Indonesia, knows all about brand damage and is leading the fight against finning here in Indonesia.
“When I see Crown I feel ashamed,” said Riyanni, who has appeared on a handful of local television programs and utilized her wildly popular Twitter account to spread the word about the devastating effects of finning. “It’s not only a black eye for Indonesia, it’s a sign of a lack of knowledge.”
Riyanni’s battle against shark finning here in Indonesia is gaining ground. So much so that at the 2012 Deep and Extreme Indonesia event in the Jakarta Convention Center, Riyanni was sent threatening texts and, on two separate occasions, bowls of shark fin soup in a blood-curdling murmur of dissent.
“When it happened I was a bit shocked, but also excited,” said Riyanni. “Receiving the bowls of sharks’ fin meant our message was hitting them where it hurt, and all the crazy stuff they did just pushes us forward.”
If just a fraction of the passengers who visited Soekarno-Hatta this year signed the petition, Arief Aziz, the communications director at Change.org Indonesia, believes airport officials would have no choice but to address the issue.
“That’s exactly what our platform is for,” said Arief. “Change.org is for anyone, anywhere to lead their own campaigns on issues they care about … this is a great example of how one person can tackle a big issue, one store at a time.”