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The first puzzle of Thresher Shark questions

By Rafid Shidqi, 31st January 2024

This morning, it was still raining, and according to Google, the rain will stay until at least 11 AM. It seems we chose the wrong month for the survey across the Banda Sea. After being on a plane for four hours from Jakarta to Ambon, then another 2 hours ferry crossing to Masohi—and another 12-hour ferry from Ambon to Banda, our extraordinary trip was covered with rain. But we’re here, so the show must go on!

This morning, we’re scheduled to meet with the fishers at the small dock east of Naira Island, where they usually land all their catches for sale. For fishers, though, despite rain, they have no vacation.

After a few hours, a small window of opportunity comes. The rain stopped, and we immediately grabbed our stuff to meet them at the dock: papers, pen, camera, phone, and everything to make sure that we had things to document our conversation with them. By the time we left with our motorbike, the sun had come out, which was admirable, and we could see the view of Gunung Api across the small road of Naira Island. We still can see the remains of the Netherlands colonization: the fort, cannon, and buildings with Dutch architecture. This Island used to be the battleground between the Netherlands, British colonizers, and the indigenous Banda people who sought liberation.

View of Gunung Api next to Naira Island. Photo © Rahmad Larae

After we arrived at the dock, the fishers were already there but were still busy cleaning up their nets. These are the ‘bobo’ fishers, or small purse seine, who target small pelagics. We interviewed them because, according to our local team, Ancul, they reported thresher shark catches a few days ago.

‘That’s the shark!’ exclaimed one of the fishers when we started our conversation. To our left, we saw a head of adult thresher sharks mixed with debris. Most of the meat has already been cut. Fishers said they distributed them to the villages where they live. ‘We don’t like them; they tasted weird. We prefer anything else but this shark. But because they’ve entangled to our nets, there’s no other reason to land them among our other catches.’

Photo of a thresher shark with the remaining head. Photo © Rahmad Larae

According to fishers, thresher sharks don’t have value to the local people. They used to, but only for their fins. However, since the fin’s prices dropped, nobody wanted them, so they got thrown away. Thresher sharks are very often entangled in fishing nets. Fishers are scattering the purse seine around the ‘rompong’—a traditionally made fishing device to aggregate small pelagic fish (like mackerels) and tuna, which are their target. Rompong is quite controversial, though, because it disrupts the movement of commercially important tuna and makes them more vulnerable to mass fishing. The Indonesian Ministry for Marine Affairs, Ms. Susi Pudjiastuti, previously banned them. However, it created an outrage among fisher communities because rompong is important to increase their cost efficiency and make finding fish easier.

‘We often see them (thresher sharks) circling in rompong, sometimes only one, but we can see as many as three to four and hunt the small mackerels. We must wait for them before releasing the purse seine. Because for us, if they’re netted too, it’s a nightmare! However, if we wait too long, we might lose our chances to catch our fish!’

It’s interesting to hear from fishers that they have avoided catching thresher sharks. But more often, they couldn’t avoid them and had to bear the cost of repairing their nets. Thresher sharks are heavy and often create detrimental effects on their fishing operations. ‘When they’re already in the net, I should appoint one or two crews to swim there and release them manually. But it’s labour intensive and can be unsafe!’

Fisher showed Rafid the location of their fishing grounds. Photo © Rahmad Larae

‘I think they are there throughout the year. It’s easy to find them (thresher sharks) in most areas we operate.’ I asked the fishers about where they usually fish, and they pointed to a couple of fishing grounds that might be interesting to investigate further.

For now, it gives us a fascinating puzzle about the thresher shark question. If fishers hated them, it is potentially easier for us to create an intervention to avoid thresher shark mortality. We’ve gathered a few points on the map, and our next trip will be to Rhun Island to unravel more puzzles about thresher sharks!



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