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Faced with grouper, snapper decline, Indonesia adopts harvest strategy

A white-edged lyretail is seen in Sabah, Malaysia. Image by Bernard DUPONT/Flickr.

  • Indonesia is adopting a harvest strategy for grouper and snapper in the east of the country, where catch volume and average fish landed are down.
  • The areas targeted are a major global supplier of the fish, given that Indonesia is responsible for 45% of global snapper and grouper sales.
  • The new regulations on gear and total boats targets restoration of fish stocks for seven species.

MAKASSAR, Indonesia — Indonesia is drafting a harvest strategy for snapper-grouper fisheries as part of a fisheries management plan for WPPNRI 713, the fisheries management area that borders the islands of Borneo, Sulawesi, Bali and Flores and encompasses the Makassar Strait, Bone Bay, Bali Sea and Flores Sea. The new regulations would restrict the number of permits available and introduce rules on the size and types of fishing gear able to be used in the world’s largest supplier of both species.

The Indonesian fisheries ministry held a public consultation on the policy in Makassar in early August, along with the South Sulawesi provincial fisheries office and NGO partners Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) and the Indonesian Marine Conservation Foundation (YKL).

In attendance was Fery Sutyawan, coordinator of the ministry’s Management Group for Inland Marine, Territorial and Archipelagic Waters, who said the new regulations were triggered by low catch and recently tallied population estimates.

“When the spawning potential ratio is below 20%, it is recommended that several steps be taken,” said Sutyawan, referring to recent estimates of the number of females, and therefore spawn or eggs, in a population, which can dwindle as fishing pressure increases.

The regulation would not affect all snapper and grouper fisheries in Indonesia. Rather, it targets three species of snapper: malabar red snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus, known colloquially as bambangan or kakap merah), goldbanded jobfish (Pristipomoides multidens, known colloquially as kakap anggoli) and rusty jobfish (Aphareus rutilans, known locally as kurisi perak); and four species of grouper: orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides, one of the many groupers known colloquially as kerapu lumpur), spotted grouper (Epinephelus areolatus, known colloquially as kerapu ekor putih), white-edged lyretail (Variola albimarginata, known colloquially as kerapu ekor gunting for its deeply forked tail) and leopard coralgrouper (Plectropomus leopardus, or kerapu sunu which is much-prized by fishermen in the live reef fish trade).

“South Sulawesi [province] is a major global source for grouper fish,” said Dessy Anggraeni, SFP’s Indonesia program director. Dessy added that the ministry intended to introduce similar harvest strategies in three other fishery administrative areas.

An orange-spotted grouper. Image by Ria Tan/Flickr.

Muhammad Ilyas, the head of South Sulawesi’s provincial fishery office, saw the value in fishery regulation. “We need to change the [fishing fleet’s] mindset from quantity to quality,” he said, referring to how fishers brought in high-value species like sunu or leopard grouper with abandon, choosing not to return smaller fish to the sea and focusing on the larger individuals that might command a better price.

“A strategy like this considers the long-term prosperity of fishermen,” Ilyas said. “Our task as a government is to maintain resources in a sustainable manner, so we are hoping to limit catch and restore fish stocks. To date, we have been exploiting these resources without regulation and that is no longer sustainable. This is a difficult task, particularly for leopard grouper.”

Even as he championed the harvest strategy, Ilyas voiced concern over fishers who would take an economic hit when the regulations take effect.

“We have to think about alternative livelihoods for fishers in these areas because we are committed to the existence of fishers,” he said.

Beachside perspective

Ilyas’ concern was magnified at lower levels of government. Makkawaru, the head of the Selayar Islands Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Service, said the policy was difficult to implement in his archipelagic jurisdiction, where most residents have worked as fishers for generations.

“We understand that this regulation is in the context of sustainable fisheries, but the problem is that fishermen have no alternative,” he said. “With population growth, the fishing fleet will grow.”

Jabal, a fisherman from Takalar district, South Sulawesi, agreed with Makkawaru.
“On [our] island, most of the children drop out of school and automatically must go to the sea [to earn a living],” he said.

Erwin, a fisherman from Langkai Island outside Makassar, said reducing the fleet and limiting the type and size of fishing gear would be difficult and missed the point. “What the government needs to focus on instead is handling the prevalence of destructive fishing, such as bombs, anesthetics and trawling,” he said. “This is destroying grouper habitat.”

The ministry estimated that nine out 10 of fishermen who targeted the species were small-scale fishermen, driving or in some cases paddling boats that were 1 gross ton or less, using lines with a single hook (handline) or multiple hooks at regular intervals (longlines).

Banner: A white-edged lyretail is seen in Sabah, Malaysia. Image by Bernard DUPONT/Flickr

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and first published here on our Indonesian site on Aug. 31, 2022.

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