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From bombs to seasonal closure, Indonesian fishers move toward sustainability

Transplanting coral reefs.

Transplanting coral reefs in a location cloased for fishing in the waters of Bontoharu District, Selayar Islands, South Sulawesi. There are 3 forms of artificial reefs with a total of 170 structures. Photo courtesy of LINI Foundation.

  • Kahu-Kahu village on Sulawesi’s Selayar Island is implementing its first season- and location-based fishery closure.
  • The three-month closure of a 6-hectare (15-acre) stretch of coastal water is intended to replenish local octopus populations by reducing fishing pressure.
  • Local fishers will install and plant artificial reefs in the area during the closure.

KAHU-KAHU, Indonesia — Fishers in this village on the northwestern tip of Selayar Island, in eastern Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province, are a fortnight into a community experiment.

For three months, from mid-November to mid-February, they’ve committed to zero extraction or exploitation of the 6 hectares (15 acres) of sea off Jeneiya Kahu-Kahu Beach. That means no fishing, seaweed cultivation, shellfish collection, or throwing of trash.

Definitely no fish bombs, added Andri Mustain, coordinator of the Selayar Islands program of the Bali-based Indonesian Nature Foundation, known locally as Yayasan LINI.

“The [closure] agreement states that in all coastal and marine areas of Kahu-Kahu village, it is strictly prohibited to catch fish using toxic materials and or fish bombs that damage the environment,” he said. “The hope with this closure activity is that the community sees themselves managing their own resources.”

Mention of bombs at the announcement of a conservation initiative like a fishery closure may seem disquieting. Participating fishers voiced enthusiasm, though.

Alauddin, an octopus fisherman in Kahu-Kahu and chair of one of the participating fisher cooperatives, said he was joining LINI’s fishery improvement project in hopes of creating more “octopus homes.”

An octopus fishermen signs a joint agreement.
Octopus fishermen signed a joint agreement to temporarily close for three months in a 6-hectare site on Jeneiya Kahu-Kahu Beach, Selayar Islands, South Sulawesi. Photo by LINI Foundation.

Octopuses are solitary animals, with each inhabiting its own cave. Octopus mothers die after their eggs hatch. The animals commune with others only once — to mate — in a life span of one to five years.

By extension, octopus fishing is also small-scale, run in small crews of one to three fishermen, operating from canoes in shallow waters near coral reefs. Fishers use homemade lures shaped like jellyfish and shrimp to lure the cephalopods out of their caves or crevices within reefs. Once in the open, the animals are grabbed by hand or spiked with a javelin or a long rebar cudgel. Javelins are sometimes pushed into caves to agitate an octopus into coming out, a process that can harm reefs.

Constant fishing pressure can reduce octopus populations and harm coral. Fishers in the Kahu-Kahu-based cooperatives participating in the closure say the average size of octopuses caught is getting smaller and that they need to go farther out to sea for the same amount of harvest.

The hope is that the three-month closure will give the octopuses time to spawn and grow individually, so that when the fishers return to fishing next year, the catch will be bigger. The temporary closures also benefit other living organisms in the area.

Fishermen and government officials gathered.
Fishermen and government officials gathered to make a closure agreement while fishing in the waters of Bontoharu District, Selayar Islands, South Sulawesi. Photo by LINI Foundation.

The mechanics of moving from paper to practice

Dwi Sabriyadi Arsal, an official with the Selayar Islands district fisheries department, echoed Andri’s message at the closure announcement to remind fishers to avoid practices that result in extensive damage to nature.

In particular he highlighted the dangers of using a methomyl-based insecticide, better known by the local trade name Dangke, to kill and catch fish. “It is dangerous not just to the reef but also to the people who eat the fish,” Arsal said.

Methomyl is intended for use on field vegetables and orchard plants, including oil palms. For soilborne insects like caterpillars, the insecticide acts as a systemic poison. It is recommended that agricultural operators cover themselves completely when using it, because exposure can “overstimulate” the nervous system resulting in nausea and possibly respiratory paralysis or death.

Selayar sits near the world’s third-largest sunken atoll, which is located in Taka Bonerate National Park, making it an area with many reefs and high marine biodiversity. The island, and much of the waters off this corner of southwest Sulawesi, are also known for the use of fish bombs and cyanide and other poisons to catch fish more easily. The region’s ecological value and prevailing fishery practices necessitate that conservation efforts be as multiarmed as the cephalopods the fishers pursue.

Over the course of two years, LINI and another nonprofit, the Pesisir Lestari Foundation (YPL), have worked in the island subdistrict of Bontoharu, which contains Kahu-Kahu and is home to 15,000 people. They worked with fishers to form three octopus-fishing cooperatives. The nonprofits quantified local catch through data collection. They also held a series of meetings with residents and local government officials to discuss management of the octopus fishery, eventually resulting in the three-month closure commitment.

They now plan to involve the fishers actively in the restoration work. During the three-month closure, fishers will be trained in the creation of artificial reefs made from reinforced concrete. One hundred and seventy artificial reef structures will be installed in the 6-hectare closure space.

Installation of fishing prohibition boundary signs in agreed locations in the waters of Bontoharu District, Selayar Islands, South Sulawesi. Violation of this rule will be subject to sanctions. Photo by LINI Foundation.

On the policy front, the Selayar Islands district government has two local regulations in place: one, issued in 2002, limit what type of gear may be used for fishing and the harvest of marine products; the other, issued in 2006, mandates the creation of a coral reef monitoring patrol team.

Andri said there will soon be a village-level regulation on repercussions for those who violate the closure. “There is also a prohibition against tampering with signs used to mark the boundaries of protected areas and information boards,” he said. “Whoever finds the sign in question is obliged to return it to the managment agency. In addition, every citizen has the right to report any violations to the management agency or village government.”

Herawati, another representative of the Selayar Islands fisheries department, expressed her gratitude for the LINI Foundation’s initiative, which, like the previous World Bank-run Coremap program, aims for sustainable fisheries management.

The temporary closure ends Feb. 15.

A previous version of this article misstated the life span of octopuses.

A version of this story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and first published here on our Indonesian site on Nov. 24, 2022.

Banner image: Transplanting coral reefs in a location cloased for fishing in the waters of Bontoharu District, Selayar Islands, South Sulawesi. There are 3 forms of artificial reefs with a total of 170 structures. Photo courtesy of LINI Foundation.

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