Group witnesses illegal fishing in Komodo

Dive boat observed fishing within the Komodo National Park.

A group diving on castle rock in the Komodo National Park has witnessed a liveaboard crew hand-line fishing within the no-take zone of the park.

The group that witnessed the events included Dr. Jos Pet, principal and senior technical advisor at People and Nature Consulting International, and Benjamin Kahn, marine biologist, cetacean expert and the principal of Apex Environmental.

Dr. Pet relates the events thus:

“We could not believe what we saw. Benjamin Kahn and myself went out for a dive at castle rock, one of the most famous sites in Komodo National Park. Several groups were down, already swept to the back of the rock, as the current was picking up. We planned to get in front of the rock in the current to see some fish.

Tenders from several boats were picking up divers at the back of the rock. But strangely there were 2 tenders from the Sea Safari up current, where there were no divers at that time. The liveaboard (name removed-editor) itself was anchored right on top of the mount/reef between Chrystal Bommie and Castle Rock, that was another thing we could not understand-totally not necessary.

But what was most appalling was that the tender crews from both the liveaboard tenders were all bottom fishing for reef fish, right on top of the dive site, up-current, where all the fish were and where Ben and I were about to jump in. We yelled at them to get their lines out, which they did, but they looked at us with blank faces and said we should talk to their captain.

Benjamin Kahn captured images of the boat crew, although by the time the images were taken, they had retrieved their lines. The group were especially concerned as the the actions of the dive boat seemed to make it very difficult to encourage local people to observe local laws regading fishing practices.

Subsequent investigations suggested that the liveaboard in question was one of the fleet operated by Indonesian company Sea Safari. Benjamin Khan approached the company upon his return and the reply from the Sea Safari management was very positive. They stated specifically that they would investigate the incident and take appropriate disciplinary actions against the people involved and, crucially, promised that it would never happen again. In addition, they invited him to report if he was to witness similar behaviors in the future.

Their response is a very positive outcome to what initially seemed to be a very negative story. It does have two important consequences. Firstly, Sea Safari has effectively stated that they will respond to reports of their crews behaving in an environmentally insensitive manner. They are to be applauded for this. Secondly, this shows that calling companies to account for poor environmental practices can have positive outcomes. This means that when we witness poor practices, we should be prepared, as Benjamin and Jos were, to take action.

Some important background to the issues in the Komodo National Park:

In 2001, around 36,308 ha of coastal waters (extending 750 meters off all reefs, rocks, islands, and beaches) was set aside by the government of Indonesia as a strict no-take zone where no fishing is allowed by anyone at anytime. This is somewhat complicated by the provision of designated “traditional use” areas which amount to about 30% of the total marine area. Fishing by local people is allowed within these areas.

However the situation on the ground is that destructive fishing practices including blast and cyanide fishing have carried on throughout the no-take zones. Local observers have noted that the situation is rather less one of resources, and more one of a lack of political will to enforce the regulations. Ranger boats, which once carried out 10 day patrols around the park, have been stationary on their moorings for the past 2 years.

In this instance though, the combination of the actions of a group that were prepared to act after witnessing illegal fishing, combined with a willingness by the owners and managers of the boats that were transgressing to correct the situation, has resulted in a positive outcome. Perhaps this suggests a code of behavior that we can all attempt to emulate.

(All images by Benjamin Khan.)