Sunday, April 15, 2007

Fish bombing: A letter of protest

Att. Bapak George Ruata
Dinas Perikanan dan Kelautan Sulawesi Utara
Kompleks Perkantoran Pertanian
Jalan Manado Tanwangko, Desa Kalasey
Indonesia - Sulut

To whom it may concern,

My name is Bart De Ridder. I am a medical doctor from Belgium. As a passionate diver I have been so fortunate to discover the underwater beauty of Asia and in particular that of Indonesia, which has the richest reefs with greatest bio-diversity in the world, a pure treasure.

On my latest trip to North & Central Sulawesi (5-26 March 2007) I witnessed the horrible consequences of an illegal fishing method: "fish bombing" or "dynamite fishing". A technique that uses a bottle, fertilizers and a fuse. This "bomb" is then thrown into the water. The explosion creates an enormous shock wave, killing fish and destroying coral reefs. The explosion can be heard for many kilometres underwater. In the past I have seen many reefs destroyed, but on this particular occasion I dived a reef that had been bombed just minutes before.

Date: March 15, 2007
Time: Briefing: 8:45; Dive: 9:27 - 9:52. So the bombing must have taken place between 8:45 and 9:20.
Dive site: Labobo's Dream. The site is south of Labobo island (Banggai islands), in front of the village called Lipulalomo.
Coordinates : 01° 47' 637 S - 123° 41' 404 E.

I am probably not the first one to point out this problem to you and you are probably already aware of it, but it needs your urgent attention right now.

For so many reasons this is an unacceptable fishing method:

• It is a very destructive technique: the shock wave blows apart coral reefs, leaving nothing but rubble. The normal structure of a reef is destroyed and it is practically impossible for corals to re-grow on this rubble. Hence once a reef is bombed it will stay like a dead place for many years on end. Marine life disappears in these places.

• This technique seriously affects the future of the next generation of local fishermen: For the reason mentioned bombed areas remain dead for many years. So, if fishermen continue to use this technique their very own children will have no more reefs to fish on.

• It is a very non-selective method of fishing: As you can see on the pictures this technique kills whatever fish happens to be near the bomb: both adult and juveniles, both fish that are fit for consumption and fish that cannot be eaten. This technique disturbs the normal ability of reproduction as the juvenile fish do not have time enough to reach adulthood.

• It is a very dangerous technique for the fishermen: many get severely injured or may even get killed when a bomb explodes in their hands. After the fish have been bombed they need to be collected. Divers go down without proper dive training and without proper dive gear, instead they stay down too long too deep with just a hose connected to a compressor on the surface which supplies them with air. No wonder why so many fishermen suffer from decompression sickness and get crippled or paralysed at very young age.

• It is dangerous for divers: during my trip I got to know Dr. Alejandro Vagelli (Director of Science & Conservation of the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences↑). He is a world specialist on the Banggai Cardinalfish and established two protective, non-fishing zones together with the Indonesian Government. During his last survey in March 2007 Dr. Vagelli got almost killed because a fisherman was about to throw a bomb at the exact spot where Dr. Vagelli was diving and filming a big school of fish. Imagine what would have happened if that fisherman had not seen Dr. Vagelli...

Each and every reason above is by itself reason enough to condemn this fishing technique.

Fishermen who are caught in the act of fish bombing should be punished. There should also be enough and regular Police Patrol so that other fishermen are not tempted to try it again.

But punishment is not enough. Local communities and children at school should be educated about the richness of their sea and its reefs. They should be made aware of the horrible and long-lasting consequences of fish bombing. Education will help them to find alternative and better ways of fishing.

As a passionate diver I am asking you to protect the seas and the reefs, but on a much bigger scale it is your responsibility to protect the future of your Country and that of your children.
Please stop all other illegal and destructive fishing activities e.g. live fish trade (Napoleon wrasses, groupers), shark finning, etc.

Thank you for your attention and hoping that you will take appropriate action to protect your Seas and Reefs.

Yours Sincerely,
Dr. Bart De Ridder, M.D.

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