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Knowledge and practice of sustainable fishing on Balobaloang
by Gene Ammarell

One afternoon in early October 2003 during a particularly low tide, Ammarell noticed several men fishing from dugouts and a joloro’ (diesel-powered fishing boat) along the outer reef, just beyond the reef crest. Approaching the men as he walked across the exposed reef flat, he could see that the men were fishing with seine nets (puka) and locally crafted spear guns (pappé’). Two of the men, Mulammadonna and M. Saleh, came in towing a small dugout holding the many fish they had speared. After they had identified the several varieties of fish in the dugout and allowed Ammarell to photograph them, M. Saleh spontaneously announced with a smile and some sense of pride that they had “caught the fish with their own hands and effort, NOT bombs!”

Over the next few months, Ammarell conducted interviews and joined in conversations with many villagers, including most of the full-time fishers as well as several ship owners and navigators. With each discussion, it became clearer and clearer that villagers not only understood, but also were also deeply concerned about the sustainability of the marine resources upon which they and their ancestors had long relied for sustenance and meager incomes.

In general, fishers agreed that over the past few decades the fishery near the island has been severely depleted, a phenomenon they attributed to the introduction of blast fishing and cyanide poisoning, practices in which they initially engaged but which they soon discarded when they saw the destructive results. During the same period, however, they claimed that profits from fishing had increased dramatically due to increased prices of fish and the introduction of engines, first outboards on dugouts and now inboard on decked boats called joloro’. Much of the catch was being sold locally to neighbors and to villagers on nearby islands, while the remaining fish were dried, salted, and sent aboard local trading ships to be sold in Makassar. It should be added here that in the last two decades, the price of fish has increased dramatically due both to a slowing supply in the face of an increasing demand in both local and global markets.

Ammarell was particularly impressed with the inventiveness of local fishers as they thoughtfully and deliberately adapted to changing environmental as well as economic circumstances while maintaining a commitment to sustainability. While small nets of various designs and spear guns had long been used, local fishers still relied primarily on hook and line fishing. Here local fishers were observed to be constantly experimenting with redesigned rigs and lures refashioned from scrap materials in new shapes and colors. The innovation that appears to have had the greatest impact, however, took place in the 1990s when nearly all of the fishers of Balobaloang gave up their dugouts and built joloro’.

Adopting the joloro’ was as much a response to the rapid depletion of the nearby fishery caused by blast and cyanide fishing as it was a way to travel further, faster and more comfortably to both nearby and distant fishing grounds. Moreover, it allowed fishers to exploit new niches and species such as tuna fishing, described above, and new bait fish that are attracted to fast-trolled lures.

In speaking about sustainability, it is important to note that up until know, at least, local motivation is almost entirely economic. It appears that values promulgated in international discourse on sustainability -- such as the scientific emphasis on biodiversity, the aesthetics of marine species and habitats as well as the spiritual connectedness of living beings – do not appear to play any significant role in the discourse on sustainability on Balobaloang. In short, the reef and fishery needs to be conserved so that there will be enough food to eat and a reliable income for local fishers.

As Supriady and others have insisted, while blast fishing increased during the 1990s, there was still an abundance of fish and other marine species as recently as 1996, when cyanide fishing added to the problem. From 1996 onward, only a few species were being caught in large quantities, while others have become rare and nearly absent. The most talked about example is that of grouper whose former abundance is legendary. Moreover, grouper from the remote and unpolluted waters of the Sabalanas and carefully processed by the fishers of Balobaloang have commanded a premium price in the fish markets of Makassar. As described above, local fishers have an intimate knowledge of the habits and habitat of grouper, including the fact that they return to their birthplaces, starting at three years of age, when it is time to breed. The additional fact that they stop feeding during the breeding season has reduced catches during this critical time, allowing them to maintain sustainable populations. Unfortunately, the Sabalana groupers have also attracted cyanide fishers who appear in greatest numbers during the breeding season because they, too, know that there will be an increased abundance of grouper at that time. Thus, not only does the cyanide poison destroy the coral habitat of the groupers and other fishes, but also the whole breeding population is decimated, and, after three years, there will be no groupers returning to breed. Tragically, it is the behavior of grouper that has sustained them when exploited by hook and line but has been their downfall in the face of cyanide fishing.

© 2011 Gene Ammarell

Also in this section:

The importance of a coral reef ecosystem
What is a coral?
Elements that influence a coral reef ecosystem
Threats to coral reef
Coral reef and global warming
Why do we try to protect the coral reef?
Indigenous knowledge of the marine ecosystem on Balobaloang

Destructive fishing practices
Dynamite fishing
Cyanide Fishing
Knowledge and practice of sustainable fishing on Balobaloang

Academic works and research on Balobaloang

Global fish trade and the environment


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