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.
(Page 3 of 3)
But the trouble is the information may only carry the fishermen and their fleets so far. Centuries ago the chief Panglimas were powerful and independent Navy captains. But they have been reduced in stature by 50 years of independence, led by strongman Suharto, who consolidated authority in Jakarta and in national institutions. Decisions about managing fisheries now come from a branch of a national office. Just as important, policing power was long ago ceded to the national marine police and the Navy.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Today, foreign boats off Aceh prowl for fish with impunity, threatening both the livelihood of local fishermen and the conservation efforts of Wilson. Reports surface regularly of Thai fishermen in the area, who, according to wharf lore, paint their boats in the bright Acehnese colors, fly Indonesian flags, and have on occasion shot at Acehnese fishermen.
Ruslan, the newly elected head of the Lampulo Panglima Laut, who has a drawn face and has been fishing since age 11, says, “People ask me to go out and impound these boats. I’m scared! I’m not going out there. These guys have guns.”
Three months ago, Wilson was roaming the market when he found a fisherman carrying a buoy the size of a bike tire. He recognized it as a high-tech device that boats use to attract and haul in swarms of fish. A few weeks later another one appeared. Using a site run by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, Wilson tracked the first buoy to a trawler registered in the Seychelles, a collection of islands (and flag of convenience) off east Africa, and the second to a huge Spanish purse seiner.
These boats may have been playing by the rules and fishing in international waters, outside the 200-mile radius around Sumatra that belongs to Indonesia. But there’s also a chance they weren’t. “I’d like to see their logs,” Wilson says. Then, growing a bit incredulous, he adds, “A boat like that catches more in a day than all our guys combined. We’re talking about feeding 30 families on that boat versus 4,000 in Lampulo.”
The image of the Spanish boat, downloaded by Wilson onto his laptop, caused some worry around the Panglima office. Irawansah, a boat owner, took one look at the picture and gasped. “Our grandchildren will have no fish,” he said.
Then a few weeks ago, Wilson heard that foreign boats, supposedly Korean and Malaysian, were frequenting a biological rich seamount 70 miles off the coast. It’s an area he’s been intent on mapping and exploring with scuba gear. But when a high-ranking Indonesian official involved in Aceh’s reconstruction efforts suggested building a concrete island there and possibly manning it with marine police, Wilson says he was all for it.
“Compared to illegal fishing, the manned plateau would have less environmental impact,” he says.
And it would protect Acehnese interests. If at first he set out to bargain with them about limits on their livelihood, Wilson is now also out to protect them from intruders.
"I guess,” he allows, “I’ve gotten invested in a good compromise with fishermen in Aceh.”