One man’s quest to improve the lot of fishermen – and fish
Conservationist Crispen Wilson is helping local Indonesians recover after the tsunami, but in a way that doesn’t deplete local fish stocks.
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On the ground, Wilson is learning to handle the sight of a fisherman dragging a rare species like that big ray by the eye sockets across the pavement and up onto a wall nearby. Turning away, he says in English unintelligible to the fishermen that he hates such scenes. Then he adds, “But even with a species you know is in trouble, how do you tell someone fishing it for five bucks a day that they can’t make five bucks a day?”Skip to next paragraph
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You don’t. At least that’s the deal he’s been sticking to since joining the Panglima Laut after meeting one of its key advisers, a young English-speaking boat owner named Ayee, at a net shop in 2007. Wilson had left a job at the US Geological Survey to join his wife, Emily Rand, an aid worker in Aceh. He’d already been exploring the local fishing industry by trading boxes of soda for trips to sea with Lampulo captains.
Some of the sun-leathered skippers complained the catches were getting worse. According to rough UN Food and Agriculture data, they are: In addition to the threat to sharks, other species, like tuna, are declining as well.
Wilson and Ayee set out to find what exactly the Acehnese were catching. They equipped some of the 250 boats in Lampulo with Global Positioning Systems that allowed captains to keep their nets off the bottom and quickly find fecund fishing grounds.
In exchange, Wilson downloads their daily routes, allowing him to develop digital maps and to pinpoint key fish habitats. Wilson and Ayee also cataloged the sales of hundreds of different fish species. That helped flesh out the portrait of local fish populations but was also crucial if the Acehnese wanted to, say, sell grouper to Malaysians across the Malaka Strait. Some species of grouper command a high price on foreign markets, but the Acehnese tend to lump all five species of the fish under one name.
Meanwhile, Wilson coaxed from fishermen information like the location of wild nurseries for young sharks and offered his own bits in return. He remembers a long argument in which he convinced a trader that bomb fishing – chucking dynamite onto a coral reef to stun fish – didn’t generate healthy regrowth of reefs.
“What we’re getting them to do is share the basics of resource management data,” says Richard Coutts, a consultant with the Asian Development Bank, which supports the Panglima projects through the Indonesian government.