Towards more sustainable fishing practices

I grew up in Jakarta, a bustling metropolitan area in Indonesia. As the world’s largest archipelago with over seventeen thousand islands, much of my childhood was spent on the beach. Much of my holidays were spent on different tiny islands offering spectacular views, although my six-year-old self was always more interested in playing in the sand and swimming amongst the corals and schools of fish. 

This beach is a mere 2-hour drive from where I live.
As I grew older, my father, a keen scuba diver, diverted my attention from spending time on the beach to in the ocean. I am particularly fond of snorkeling, especially after the time I spotted a manta ray swimming beneath me in the seas near the Komodo Islands. 
A manta ray swimming on coral reefs, a common sight when snorkelling or scuba-diving in different parts of Indonesia.

A lot of islanders rely on fishing as their main source of income. Small-scale fishing contributed to up to 95% of the total fishing output in Indonesia. Sadly, a lot of fishermen use nets with a far too small mesh width, which means they catch fish of all sizes. This is not sustainable because:

  • Smaller fish are likely to be juveniles and not reproduced. This means there are fewer fish to catch in the future;
  • Smaller fish weigh less and therefore are worth less to fishermen, who sell their catch to local markets.

To improve their catch, some fishermen also use a destructive technique called blast fishing, where glass bottles filled with dynamite are detonated in the water. This is an incredibly unsustainable method as the bombs kill corals and small invertebrates living on the seabed within a distance of 50 m. As a result, it will take decades for coral reefs to recover, and for coral fish (the main food source for bigger fish targeted by fishermen) to return. Lastly, the damage from the blast can also endanger the fishermen’s lives, as boats may become damaged if the water is too shallow.  

Fortunately, this is starting to change. Indonesia, along with 13 other countries that make up 40% of the world’s coastlines, has pledged to stop overfishing by being a part of Ocean Panel. Large nets yield less catch, and are therefore less appealing to fishermen, but there are different methods that have proved to be not only efficient, but also sustainable. 

One such method is “one-by-one fishing”, used mainly to catch tuna in east Indonesia (arguably the best scuba-diving spot in the world), which involves the use of fishing poles, live baits and barbless hooks.

How one-by-one fishing works.

Another method is through re-education of fishing communities on sustainable fishing practices, such as one supported by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). This involves implementing vessel tracking systems to ensure that not too many fishermen are fishing the same area, and improving baitfish management to ensure only large fish form the catch. An MSC certification is given to fishermen who comply with sustainable fishing practices, which allow small-scale fishermen to receive support from MSC’s Ocean Stewardship Fund.

In fishing communities at coastal villages around Indonesia, activist groups such as BandaSea aim to educate not only fishermen, but also their children, on sustainable practices. This includes snorkelling courses, aimed to show children the beauty of coral reefs and the need to protect them from unsustainable fishing methods.

Other groups, such as the USAID, have programs that advances fair trade for fishermen using sustainable methods, for an extra USD0.30/kg for their catch. One of the certification requirements is resource management, where fishermen are taught to protect local biodiversity and threatened species, such as sharks and turtles.

These activist groups are crucial in ensuring sustainable fishing methods are used throughout Indonesia, where a lot of fishermen are from small villages with low levels of education. I am still keen on snorkelling, and I always go whenever I am back in Indonesia. With sustainable fishing in place, I hope the beautiful sights of coral reefs, turtles and manta rays will remain for centuries to come.

Scuba divers enjoying views of coral reefs.









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