This photo was taken at the Tanjung Luar fish market on April 28, 2013. Exactly 46 days AFTER manta rays were listed on Appendix II of CITES. Appendix II protects species that are not necessarily currently threatened with extinction, but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.
In tallying the April information from Tanjung Luar, as we were coming into what the fishermen consider their high-season, we were prepared to see a significant increase in shark and manta catch. Oddly enough, it was the opposite – a decline.
Is, perhaps, the CITES press influencing the market?
Digging a bit deeper, we found out there are actually two factors contributing to the reduction of the catch:
1. Our fishery monitors report rumors that there has been a negligible drop in demand. Could this be a signal that global pressure exerted against the Asian markets for manta gill-rakers and shark fins is beginning to effect the trade?
2. The other more frightening factor coming into play is that local fishermen are finding the populations of sharks and manta rays significantly less than before, forcing them to go further afield. More petrol and longer hiring periods for crew (who don’t really want to be away from their families anyway) make it a higher risk venture.
Which of these factors is the overriding force, we don’t know. One side of the coin is good, the other, horrible.
The manta ray and shark fishery in Tanjung Luar has been justified as a source of protein for locals on both sides of the Alta Strait, the waterway running between Lombok and Sumbawa. This fact could be questioned as fin and gill raker brokers are the first on site when the boats deliver their manta/shark catch and what’s left of the fish is sold much after the high-ticket parts (fins and gill-rakers) are quietly auctioned off.
The regional scarcity of sharks and mantas has, however, ramped up squid fishing. Fishery biology and management conferences often outline species being driven to the brink of extinction and fishing communities losing their livelihood. By contrast, in a squid symposium hosted in LA Paz, Mexico in 2010, it was noted that due to the fact that squid are short lived and grow very quickly into large adults that produce many offspring, their fishery may be sustainable. Naturally, we are not saying this is the answer, but it seems that some sustainable protein options are already being considered.
In casual conversations, the boat operators were asked if they were aware that the Indonesian Minister of Fisheries, Sharif Cicip Sutardjo, mentioned on March 28 that he would be drafting a decree to ban manta and shark hunting. The general consensus was that since the local government had not mentioned anything, the fishery at Tanjung Luar might be immune to this legislation.
When questioned about the impact caused by the extraction of manta rays and sharks from the ecosystem, a few replied that they had seen this information on TV, but once again, since the government had not intervened, these situations did not pertain to this particular local marine ecosystem.
After a species is listed on CITES Appendix II, there is a 18 month “socialization” period, meaning the rules and regulations protecting mantas will not be in place for another year and a half. As we can see from the accompanying photo, there does not seem to be any socialization happening in Tanjung Luar as of yet. Of course, the impetus of this Project AWARE grant is to collect information and educate locals to the fact that these issues actually DO directly effect them, their fishery, and their marine ecosystem. So, the big question is whether or not the government plans to make any effort to educate locals and enforce the international protection status of these fish.
If so, since the local manta ray and shark populations seem to be plummeting, does the government plan to begin the socialization process before their manta rays and sharks become regionally extinct?
Yes, Project Momentum is gathering information so the proper authorities can make an informed decision, but in reality, these decisions have already been made in Bangkok at the most recent CITES convention and by the Minister of Fisheries in Jakarta. Interestingly enough, at this point in our interviews and data collection efforts it’s becoming very apparent that just a few words by the regional government of the East Lombok Regency could easily set wheels in motion to put the manta ray and shark fishery of Tanjung Luar in check. So, why is this not happening?