Amid their protected status and absence of government supervision, sharks in the waters of North Sulawesi are at the mercy of fishers.
The sun had just resigned and it was early June 2022 when Petrus Lesawengen (62) welcomed us at his home in Batuwingkung, an island in the South Tabukan sub-district of the Sangihe Islands district of North Sulawesi. It is locally known as Shark Island because many fishermen rely on shark-hunting to supplement their income in the low season.
Despite his age, Petrus continues to venture offshore to hunt for sharks, following in his ancestors’ footsteps. His two sons, Yohanis (32) and Timotius (26) are also fishers.
“It is better now. The boat is bigger and uses an engine. Fishing also uses the longline method. There was one time when we caught 28 sharks,” recalled Petrus while tidying up his fishing equipment.
Fishing paid for Timotius’ education who completed his studies as a computer engineer at the Nusa Utara Polytechnic in Sangihe. Timotius wanted to become a civil servant but repeatedly failed selections.
“Now, I just go with my father to fish at sea,” said Timotius.
While talking, Timotius took us to the kitchen where hundreds of shark fins are hung, the bounty of months of fishing.
“We mostly catch gray reef sharks which we call Menehe here,” he said, showing us several sacks full of dried shark fins.
There were also thresher sharks and hammerheads and most fishermen in Batuwingkung knew their sharks.
“Even though it is seasonal, we still depend on shark fishing for our livelihood and this has been the case since our ancestors. I completed school and earned an undergraduate degree, that’s from shark fin sales,” Timotius said.
The following day, we waited for other shark hunters who had left the island the previous day. Around 10:30 Eastern Indonesia Time, a large boat, eight meters long, threw an anchor near the shore. Noldi Diawang (33) and his colleague, Aljufri Kaemba (35) immediately unloaded their catch.
They dragged a two-meter-long gray reef shark ashore before Noldi gutted it, took all its fins, and cut the fish into two parts. The body parts were then washed, and the fins put into pails that would be stored at his home not far away. The meat was to be sold at the Petta market.
The fins would later be dried in the sun for three to four days, depending on the weather.
“When they are dry, we will stock them first and when there is enough we will sell them to a collector in the Manalu market whose name is Ance,” Noldi explained.
This was a common sight and activity among shark-hunting fishermen in Batuwingkung. The village head, Risno Mangune, said there are 134 families on that island. 98 percent of them are fishing families and half are shark hunters.
When we were in Batuwingkung we did not see anyone checking on the landed shark catch or other fish. There was no outpost of the Coastal and Marine Resources Management Agency (BPSPL) or the Marine and Fishery Office.
When we visited Batuwingkung, there were no relevant parties monitoring shark and other fish landings. There were no posts from the Coastal and Marine Resources management center (BPSPL) or the Fisheries and Marine Affairs office.
There was practically no data collection on how many sharks were caught, fins, and meat sold. Fishermen like Noldi and Aljufri have no restrictions on catching sharks.
In the North Tabukan sub-district, one of the main fishing hubs on Sangihe island, similar activities can be observed near Petta harbor. A number of fishermen could be seen unloading nine sharks from a boat. The headless sharks were unloaded without official supervision. The sharks were then stored in a house 20 meters from the shore.
The same activity was seen around Petta Harbor, North Tabukan sub-district, one of the main trade points for fishery products on Sangihe Island. Fishermen unloaded nine sharks from a boat. The sharks, which no longer had heads, were unloaded without supervision from authorities. They were then placed in a house about 20 meters from the shore.
One of the residents in Petta, Marwan Samara, said that almost everyday fishing boats come to bring sharks.
“Not only from Batuwingkung, but also from Tinakareng, Lipang, Matutuang, and Para,” said Marwan that afternoon, Wednesday (7/6/2022).
Petta has a traditional market three times a week. On market days, fishermen from various islands sell their catch. The proceeds are then spent on their daily needs.
As in Batuwingkung, fishermen sell shark fins to collectors. According to the head of Tahuna’s Fish Quarantine, Quality Control and Fishery Product Safety (KIPM) station, Geric Lumiu, there is a big collector in Petta. His name is Rommy, and he lives in North Tabukan.
“From what I remember, there are three shark fin collectors in Sangihe,” Lumiu said in his office.
The absence of officers to record shark catches was also confirmed by several sellers at Petta Market. One seller, sitting at his stall when we met him, admitted that if it was busy he could sell hundreds of kilograms of shark meat a day. He also said he could supply up to 6 tons of shark meat at a time. He often supplied shark meat to Bitung and Manado — two major coastal cities in North Sulawesi. He sells shark meat for Rp10,000 per piece.
According to Oktavianto Prasetio Darmono from the Rekam Nusantara Foundation, a non-profit organization that conducts various studies on natural resources and biodiversity as well as conservation actions in Indonesia, the government should be present on-site and provide landing facilities such as fishing ports.
“Especially when there are protected types of fish being caught,” said Darmono, better known as Tejo.
The Shark Research Institute, an international not-for-profit organization focused on shark conservation noted that there were at least 400 species of shark globally. Twelve of them are listed in CITES’ Appendix II. They are threatened with extinction if they are not included on the list of protected species and their trade continues.
Indonesia has ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which groups commodities into three appendices. Appendix I for those under full protection, Appendix II for restriction by quota, and Appendix III for registration of every use
Nine of the 12 shark species listed in Appendix II of CITES are found in Indonesian waters. Some species, especially grey reef sharks, were observed caught by fishermen in Batuwingkung and fishermen unloading their catches in Petta.
Shark trade regulation under the CITES mechanism aims to ensure shark species’ sustainability, compliance, and traceability. This trade regulation can also prevent illegal trade and increase CITES compliance.