HISTORY BEHIND NO FISHING ZONE IN RAJA AMPAT (PART I)

Raja Ampat is famous for its rich marine biodiversity. Scientists, media, and travel magazine have called it mecca of diving and included in top ten must visit places.

Few people know Raja Ampat that was once unknown since world war II end and forgotten for more than two decades. It was in fact a hotspot hunting ground by commercial fishing. Before it was known as ‘The Four Kings’, Raja Ampat was a haven for commercial fishing and frequented by large and small commercial fishing fleet from approximately 1950s until 2010.

Often the commercial fishing, foreign and national, were unregulated and illegal. These commercial fishing vessels came in fleets to catch as much as they could carry.  The mother ship would collect their catch, resupply the ship with fuel and logistics without the need to go to shore.

All types of illegal fishing were conducted by big and small ships from blast fishing (fishing with the use of explosives), cyanide fishing (stunning fish with poison), the use of giant trawler that razed ocean floor, and the cruel method of shark finning.

Shark fishing was popular in 1976 to 1981. Villagers often found carcasses of sharks with fins cut off in the coastal areas. Shark finning was usually done by fishers from Madura, East Java, Selayar, Buton and South Sulawesi but the investment for the vessels comes from outside Indonesia. Shark fins were transported from Raja Ampat to Makassar and to Japan.

Cyanide fishing began in 1980s and was once a popular method because it caught high prized fish. Most of the live catch using this method are exported to Hong Kong and Singapore.  The most popular catch are Mouse grouper and Napoleon Wrasse or popular among divers as bumphead.

Blast fishing in Raja Ampat was introduced by fishers from Buton, Sulawesi and Biak. It started on a small island near Sorong the Crocodile Island and soon also become popular among younger generation when they observed high profits made by fishers from outside Raja Ampat.

Villagers were recruited by The Buyers outside Raja Ampat. Villagers that chose to participate in cyanide fishing were supplied with boats and equipment. Villagers chose blast fishing, were supplying bombing material in Sorong. The Buyers offered large down payment in return for sole purchasing rights to the fishermen’s catch.

The exclusive buying right allow The Buyer to forced fishers to fish heavily in order to clear his debt. The blast fishing is so widespread, villagers in Waigeo, Mansuar, and Gam heard blasts almost daily. The reefs destruction is widespread around Raja Ampat.

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