The fishermen were apprehended in the Kawe MPA, an uninhabited 155,000 hectare protected area in northwestern Raja Ampat , which is protected through traditional, regency, and national law. Over 97 percentof the MPA has been declared as a no-take zone, making it the largest functional no-take zone in southeast Asia, and which makes fishing of any kind in this area illegal. The Kawe MPA is one of six large-scale MPAs in Raja Ampat designed in large part to support sustainable fisheries for the food security of local communities. The Raja Ampat government has also declared the entire surrounding Raja Ampat region as a shark sanctuary.
Upon hearing news of the fishermen entering the MPA, the local Kawe community patrol team, which actively patrols the MPA for outside poachers, launched a quick response. With support from the Governor of West Papua and the Raja Ampat Regency government, the community patrol team in partnership with the Navy and local police successfully apprehended the fishermen in a tense, but non-violent confrontation.
The shark fins, shark and manta ray carcasses and sea cucumbers, estimated to be worth more than $160,000, were siezed from the fishermen. The patrol team also confiscated illegal long-line fishing gear and air compressors, which are often used to illegally harvest from the sea floor. The fishermen’s catch, illegal gear and vessel documents were all confiscated and the fishermen were ordered to follow the patrol boat to the port of Waisai. The fishermen however, fled the area.
Following the incident the Indonesian Navy sent another patrol team to a nearby patrol post and plans to have an increased presence on the water throughout the protected area, starting today.
“These illegal fishing activities in the area of Sayang island are a clear violation of the protected status granted this region by the government of Raja Ampat and the government of Indonesia,” said
Ferdinand Dimara, Secretary of the Regency of Raja Ampat. “The actions of the Kawe people to protect their territory is admirable and we need to continue to support their efforts to protect these areas for their future and the future of the planet."
As of Friday the 33 fishermen had not yet surrendered to police. Of the seven ships, four fishing boats were from Kampung Yoi on the island of Halmahera, two originated from Sorong and one ship came from Buton. None of the fishermen came from Raja Ampat nor had legal permits to fish in Raja Ampat.
“This kind of of illegal, cruel and wasteful fishing is unfortunate, but the immediate response from the local government and law enforcement is to be commended,” said Executive Director of CI Indonesia Ketut Sarjana Putra. Conservation International works in the region, supporting local communities and the local and national government as they manage a 183,000 square kilometer region of connected ocean waters known as the Bird’s Head Seascape. “We hope that the government will continue to pursue, arrest and prosecute the perpetrators."
“The government should impose heavy penalties to the shark finners. They have stolen from an area we protect,” said Hengky Gaman, leader of indigenous people of Raja Ampat. “They need to be prosecuted and should have fines imposed upon them to repay the Kawe people, the custodians of the island of Sayang.”
Sharks play an important role in fisheries and ecosystem health. In Raja Ampat, where tourism is one of the most important industries, sharks are an important tourist attraction and are estimated to generate significant local tourism revenue when alive and in their natural environment. In nearby Palau, a 2010 economic study published by the Australian Institute of Marine Science estimated an individual reef shark in Palau to have an annual value of US$179,000 and a life-time value of US$1.9 million to the tourism industry*. Sharks are completely protected in Palau.
Indonesia has the single largest shark fishery globally which has lead to signficantly depleted stocks across most of the country. In past decades, Raja Ampat was no exception. Shark finning was previously prevelant in the area, with fishermen primarily originating from outside of Raja Ampat being attracted to the area, which in the ‘90s was considered to be one of the last regions in Indonesia with healthy shark populations.
Over the last five years, with the establishment and active enforcement of the Raja Ampat MPA network there as well as the more recent establishment of the Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary, there are signs of recovering shark populations. While this incident is a set back to the recovery of shark populations in the Kawe MPA and Raja Ampat on the whole, the quick response of the community and local government demonstrates their commitment to enforcing the MPA regulations and the Shark Sanctuary.
The Kawe MPA is considered to be the most protected part of the Bird’s Head Seascape. It is managed by the local Kawe tribe from the island of Waigeo, who have traditional tenurial ownership over the area, in partnership with the Raja Ampat and national governments with guidance from Conservation International staff.
“This marine protected area has been our top priority and a success story because we have successfully turned its management over to a team that is completely comprised of local villagers,” said Putra. “This is a globally unique and world-renowned site for marine life and the Kawe guard the area like it is their own, because it is their own”.
*Vianna GMS, Meekan MG, Pannell D, Marsh S, Meeuwig J (2010) Wanted Dead or Alive? The relative value of reef sharks as a fishery and an ecotourism asset in Palau. Australian Institute of Marine Science and University of Western Australia, Perth.
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