By Carla Kerstan
Back in September, the navy headquarters in Sorong, West Papua received information from the community marine protected area (MPA) patrol group that a Philippine fishing boat had entered Indonesian waters and was fishing illegally in the Ayau Asia MPA. During the night, the boat proceeded toward the Ayau Asia islands in search of fish and other marine life in shallower waters.
Upon receiving this news, the following day several MPA patrol teams, which are strongly supported by CI, set out to sea in search of the vessel. It wasn’t long before one of the teams captured the boat and arrested its 13 crew members, who were brought back to Sorong and detained for legal prosecution. Among the illegal catch found on the ship were Napoleon wrasse and green turtles, which were used as evidence for the subsequent court case. The boat had been underway for only two days before it was seized, giving fishermen little time to poach within these protected waters.
It took the official court in Sorong just over a month to complete the prosecution process and charge the arrested fishermen. Each was sentenced to eight months in prison, while the boat and all its equipment was confiscated and destroyed.
While it is not uncommon for illegal fishermen to be caught by MPA patrol teams in the Bird’s Head Seascape, the formal prosecution processes following their arrest are often ineffectual. This case’s successful prosecution represents a significant milestone for the Raja Ampat government in its fight to protect these beautiful, vital waters — and without the strong cooperation of local communities, this result would not have been possible.
Ayau Asia — where the illegal fishers were caught — is one of six MPAs officially established in the Raja Ampat archipelago since 2008. Raja Ampat is known to be one of the most diverse habitats on the planet for marine species.
Raja Ampat’s communities directly depend on these waters for a variety of uses, including fishing, coastal protection and a rapidly expanding dive tourism industry. Yet illegal fishing continues to threaten the long-term sustainability of all these benefits.
Illegal fishing is driven by the insatiable global demand for fish — and poor fishermen are driven by high profit margins to practice it. Shark fin soup and threatened species of tuna are in especially high demand, particularly in China and Japan.
Shark fishing is a lucrative pursuit worldwide — a brutal process in which fishermen cut off the shark’s fins and often discard the finless animal alive to sink and die. Unfortunately, Indonesia still ranks as the world’s largest supplier of shark fin. More....