It is not quite 10 am, and on a typical fishing day, Muhajir and his crew prepare to go out sea to check if there are sharks caught on their longlines, deployed the previous afternoon. Today, they are quite lucky when a medium size Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) they find caught on their longline. As the fin price for Bull Shark can fetch USD$450, and the shark body can fetch USD$50, this single catch could match 20 days of fishing of lesser valued species. The fins are sold to traders who then trade them on to Medan for export, about 430 km south-west of Banda Aceh. The shark body is bought by domestic buyers who use the meat for a range of dishes, in particular “Shark Bakso” or shark meat balls which are sold as a street food delicacy to adults and children alike.
Muhajir is part of the Aceh Islands fishing community, a group of islands which lie some 14 km to the north west of Banda Aceh, the capital city of the Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The two largest islands are Breuh Island and Nasi Island. Muhajir lives at the southern end of Breuh Island, at Gugop Village, where around 65% of inhabitants were killed during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The 12 villages of Breuh Island have been rebuilt over the past 5 years. From 2004 to 2006, there were no boats available for fishing as all had been destroyed by the tsunami. By 2007, the communities began to receive boats from a range of international and national agencies, and Muhajir started to fish again.
Muhajir’s story is common to many of the fishers that survived the tsunami. Before the tsunami they fished for lobster among the shallow reefs, diving on compressed air and using cyanide to flush the lobster from reef crevices. After the tsunami, Muhajir learnt shark fishing techniques from older fishermen who had been displaced from their villages to the south. With the return of boats and availability of long-line fishing gears they started to catch shark for the first time in 2007. From a single fishing trip during the west monsoon season (July-September, the best time to catch shark), a group of 3 shark fishers can earn up to US$500 per week, five times the income of fishers who do not fish for shark. Shark fins in the Banda Aceh Market fetch US$50 per kg for a Silver Tip Shark (Charcharhinus cuvier) and US$122 per kg for the White Spot Guitar Fish (Rynchobatus djiddensis). The marine waters of the province of Aceh now host one of the largest shark fisheries in Indonesia. The fishery is largely uncontrolled, with few if any rules in place to control fishing impacts on species, spawning grounds or shark catches.
Muhajir is knowledgeable about the impacts on the shark populations he may be having. In just 5 years his shark catches have fallen, and nowadays he can only catch 1-3 sharks per week. With the support of Save Our Seas Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society is working closely with these fishers and government agencies to promote sustainable fishing practices for shark and ray, and develop an action plan for the Aceh-Weh Seascape that addresses key strategies of the Indonesia-National Plan of Action for Shark and Rays.