With no access to capital and the absence of government assistance to fish in the open sea, fishers in Sangihe resort to loans to make ends meet.
Anche, also known as Koh Ance, has been buying and selling shark fins for a decade. Speaking from his stall at the Manalu market in Tabukan Selatan sub-district, Sangihe district in North Sulawesi in July 2022, Ance said he had a trade permit.
Permits were required for any business that sold shark and ray commodities. Ance knew those shark species were protected and learned about that when he processed his permits five years ago. The permits have not been extended.
The documents include a Fish Type Utilization Permit (SIPJI), a Fish Type Transport Permit (SAJI), and a recommendation letter if his commodities include species that look like the protected or CITES-listed species. Both SIPJI and SAJI are valid for five years.
As far as the documents are concerned, Ance did not extend them. Ance added, some shark fin collectors in Sangihe did not have permits. He regrets this because as a ‘registered’ businessman, he contributed to the state coffers through retribution.
“I am required to report data regularly to the fishery (office). Meanwhile, other buyers (collectors) without permits are free from those obligations. And so far nothing has happened to either of them,” said Ance.
The business chain starts with the purchase of fins. Fishermen sell their catches to Ance, whose house is located about three miles from the shore where fishing boats in Pulang Batuwingkung rest. Ance then separates shark fins according to size, type, and quality. He charges a different price for each kilogram of fins.
There are no standard prices. The situation depends on the general conditions and the demands for exports. Ance said that in 2022 prices changed several times, reading Rp1.3 million per kilogram for super quality fins with a length of some 40 cm.
“There was a time that for the same quality, it only fetched Rp 600,000 per kilogram. It depends on exports. The price of goods goes up if exports are good; however, if the government curbs exports they will go down automatically,” he asserted.
He added that prices would also rise if export demands could not be met.
Fishermen usually know that Ance will buy fins over 40 cm for at least one million rupiah. On average large fins weigh eight ounces. Ance will pay less for smaller ones, around 35 cm long.
“According to the bosses who do exports, they are given quotas by the government. So, if they have not yet reached their quota, they increase the price,” Ance said.
The shark fins he collects are usually sent to an exporter in Tikala, Manado, North Sulawesi. This exporter, according to Ance, is the only company in the province holding a permit to export shark fins.
“That is a large-scale buyer. He is the only businessman in North Sulawesi with an export permit,” he said.
His decade of experience in shark fin trading has made him aware of the principle of mutual symbiosis – he needs the fishermen to get the shark fins while the fishermen need him to make ends meet.
It is no secret that fishermen often have difficulties accessing the capital to fish in the open sea. Ance helps with boats, fishing equipment, and operational costs. In return, fishermen will sell to him. In many cases, fishermen took years to pay back their loans.
“Some can only pay back in five years. I care for these fishermen. They are not covered by government assistance,” he said.
Husen (53), a fisherman from Batuwingkung confirmed that Ance lent to fishermen. He himself used such a loan to pay for his motorized canoe fuel.
“I will pay it back when I sell him the fins. The loan would be deducted,” said Husen who said he once caught at least 13 sharks in one outing.
There are no statistics on how many shark fins are sent from Sangihe to Manado. The Marine and Fisheries Resources Management office (BPSPL) in Makassar or its chapter in Manado did not respond to the requests for data.
The Manado chapter staff in August 2022 said he did not have the authority to release data because he was not a structural official. Requests for data should be addressed to the BPSPL office in Makassar, or more precisely in the Maros sub-district of South Sulawesi.
The Sangihe Marine and Fisheries office that should handle fish catch also did not have the data we needed.
We later found the shark meat and fins trade data we needed from the Tahuna Fish Quarantine and Quality Control Station (KIPM).
The head of the station, Geric Lumiu said that in 2021, 3,150 kilograms of shark fins and 25,256 kilograms of shark meat were shipped from Sangihe. This brought the total to 28,430 kilograms, an increase from 2020 when the total reached 20,200 kilograms. However, it was far less than the 94,422 kilograms sent in 2019, 3,794 of which were fins.
There were no other comparative data available.
While Rekam Jejak Alam Nusantara Foundation — which collects data on fish species caught in several areas in Sangihe — does not specifically record shark catch by fishermen in its working area.
“In the quarantine station, we monitor the traffic of fishery commodities at the entrance and exit points, and we collect data,” Lumiu explained.
This is to record when there are shipments of shark commodities (fins or meat) from Sangihe to Manado or other islands, explained Lumiu.
Lumiu said that since December 2021, in line with a letter from the Director General for Maritime Spatial Management, all shark commodities shipped out must obtain a recommendation letter from BPSPL but during our observation at various fish landing sites, including in Batuwingkung and Petra, there were no BPSPL officials present.
Indri, a staff at the Manado chapter of BPSPL Makassar admitted that the office did not have personnel at the various fish landing sites. This absence makes it impossible to know the precise amount of shark meat and fins shipped out of Sangihe.
“It would be better if there was a BPSPL officer deployed here (Sangihe). We hope they can conduct direct identification on the field because we, at the quarantine, do not really understand the matter of identifying sharks,” Lumiu said.