Shark Week 2019
By Hollie Booth | July 30, 2019
Each year, the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week celebrates the weird and wonderful nature of sharks and their cartilaginous relatives. However, with recent news of even more of these fishes being assessed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, perhaps we should be more worried about the rapid disappearance of sharks from our waters than we are about their pointy teeth and thrashing tails.
The primary reason for shark declines is overfishing. Sharks are susceptible to capture in a wide range of fisheries, with conservative life history strategies making many species vulnerable to overfishing. As such, there is an urgent need to reduce capture of sharks across global fisheries to prevent further population declines and species extinctions.
Indonesia is a hotspot of shark species diversity and the world’s largest shark-fishing nation. It is a global priority for protecting shark species and halting shark overfishing. However, in a country as vast and diverse as Indonesia, with a fisheries sector dominated by small-scale operators, this is no simple task.
In Indonesia, diverse shark species are caught for a variety of reasons — including for profit, for local livelihoods and food security, for cultural reasons, and as accidental bycatch. Regulatory action is complicated by the socio-economic vulnerability of coastal communities, many of which have high dependency on marine resources. Tailored approaches are required that can effectively reduce shark fishing mortality whilst enabling coastal communities to continue benefiting from the ocean.
To address these challenges, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) has been taking a long-term multi-faceted approach to reduce mortality of priority shark species in problematic fisheries in Indonesia. Our longest running shark project is located in Tanjung Luar, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. Tanjung Luar serves as a landing site for a small-scale semi-commercial shark fishery, which primarily targets pelagic sharks using longlines.
The most frequently landed species include silky, tiger, and hammerhead sharks — all of which are at risk of extinction. Current levels of fishing mortality for these species are almost certainly unsustainable. Yet, given the current regulatory and market environment, there is a lack of legal, sustainable alternatives to shark fishing that offer similar financial returns to the shark fishers.
“Shark regulation is not only for sharks themselves, but also for humans. I want my grandchildren to be able to see sharks in Indonesia before they disappear like the sawfish,” observes Pak As Syamsudin, Chief of Tanjung Luar fisheries auction place for the West Nusa Tenggara fisheries department.
Shark meat also provides a cheap source of animal protein for one of the poorest regions in Indonesia. Thus, WCS is faced with a tricky dilemma in Tanjung Luar between the conservation imperative to reduce unsustainable capture of threatened shark species, and the moral imperative to ‘do no harm’ to vulnerable coastal communities.
To confront this task, WCS began building relationships with fishers, skippers, vessel owners, and traders in 2014. Collection and analysis of landings data has helped to develop management options that could reduce fishing pressure on threatened and CITES-listed species. Potential measures include gear restrictions or modifications, such as reducing the number of hooks permitted on each fishing line, coupled with time/area closures in critical shark habitat.
However, for these findings to have meaningful conservation impact, they must feed in to actionable policies and management plans that bring about changes in at-sea fishing behaviour. WCS enables this through a multi-stakeholder approach. This includes community engagement activities and facilitating dialogue between government representatives and local fishers/traders.
To formally facilitate this process, a provincial-level working group for shark management — the first of its kind in Indonesia — has recently been established. The working group includes representatives from government, NGOs, fishers, and traders, who regularly meet to discuss shared solutions to shark management challenges. Other community engagement actions in Tanjung Luar include joint data collection, school visits, beach clean-ups, and supporting cooperatives for non-shark livelihoods.
Through this process, Tanjung Luar shark fishers officially recognised the need to collectively limit their shark fishing effort at a working group meeting in Lombok on July 10.
“The fishers recognize that management is not just for the sharks, but is necessary to maintain their livelihoods and cultural values,” says Benaya Simeon, WCS’s Sharks and Rays Officer.
Fishers in Tanjung Luar are already strongly committed to not capturing any fully-protected shark and ray species, which include manta rays, sawfish, and whale sharks. Where the harbour was once full of manta ray carcasses, not a single manta has been landed since 2015. WCS is also using lessons from Tanjung Luar to expand their impact to other fisheries and provinces. A shark management working group has now been inaugurated in Aceh Province.
Although there is still a long way to go to reduce shark fishing mortality to acceptable levels in Indonesia, these small victories represent crucial milestones on a path towards achieving WCS Indonesia’s long-term vision: that sharks and rays are effectively protected and sustainably managed, to provide long-term benefits for people and ecosystems in Indonesia.
In lower-income ocean-dependent countries such as Indonesia, this can only really be achieved through explicitly recognizing the difficult trade-offs between shark conservation objectives and the role of fisheries in people’s lives and livelihoods. Working with fishers and other stakeholders is crucial for understanding this balance, and designing management measures accordingly.