SEMINYAK/JIMBARAN ~ Indonesia is the worldâ€™s biggest producer of shark-related products, netting 12.3 percent of the total global catch, followed by India and Taiwan, and seriously imperiling the majestic marine creature, according to conservation groups.
In 2004, the year for which the most current data are available, Indonesia caught 122 tons of shark in its waters, a report by the TRAFFIC wildlife-trade monitoring network, in association with the WWF and others, says.
In Bali alone, the sale of whole, freshly caught shark and related products is widely available, from popular fish markets to medium- and high-end supermarkets.
By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
With staff reporter Rian Dewanto
â€œSharks are widely recognized as being vulnerable to overfishing because they grow slowly, are late to mature and produce relatively few young. These characteristics are particularly prominent in deep-water
sharks, which are, therefore, relatively more vulnerable,â€ British-based TRAFFIC says in its report, Confronting Shark Conservation Head On!
â€œMost sharks also play an important role as top predators in the ecosystem and significant reductions in their numbers are likely to have impacts on other elements of those ecosystems,â€ it says.
According to Lida Soede, marine life director with WWF in Bali, shark populations are rapidly declining, their stabilizing effect in the ocean less felt.
â€œShark populations are collapsing and thatâ€™s not a good thing as sharks have a very important role to play, amongst others, in keeping the balance in the fish populations on the reefs and in the oceans,â€ she told The Bali Times.
To those who sell shark fin and related products, Soede said a large amount of shark were being killed for a small, niche market.
â€œI would explain to stores that sell shark fin that unfortunately too many sharks are being killed to service a luxury food dish that is so expensive that only few people can afford it,â€ she said.
However, the lure of the catch lay in its hefty price tag.
â€œItâ€™s hard to change Indonesian mindset as the value of the shark fin is so high that itâ€™s a real incentive to catch the sharks and cut and dry and sell the fins…â€
Compounding the problem among Indonesians from a conservation standpoint was their image of shark as a man-eater, she said.
â€œ…many Indonesians see sharks as bad animals anyway, that eat people, so the idea is that it doesnâ€™t matter that sharks are killed in large numbers.â€
In Indonesia, the WWF has been instrumental in getting shark fin â€“ the result of a violent procedure in which the animalâ€™s dorsal fin is sliced off and the still-alive creature cast back into the sea – off the menus of some restaurants in Jakarta, particularly those with a large clientele of affluent Chinese, who favor the delicacy as a way of displaying their wealth.
â€œShark products are popular as they are a highly valued delicacy in some cultures, and it has become a status symbol to be able to afford shark fin dishes or to serve your business relations shark fin dishes,â€ said Soede, a Dutch woman living in Bali.
She said that despite its reputation, there was no scientific basis for shark fin being an aphrodisiac, adding that, â€œmost species of sharks are now unfortunately very endangered in Indonesia.â€
At the fish market in Jimbaran, shark meat is sold for around Rp30,000 (US$3.29) per kilogram, with sellers making an average Rp2,000 per kilogram in profit, according to one of the sellers, Samsul Hadi.
â€œOther than the meat,â€ the 24-year-old told The Times, â€œpeople buying shark are also interested in the fins.â€
But, said Hadi, from Kediri in East Java, he rarely sells shark fin, because good-quality ones are â€œrareâ€ and too much trouble to prepare.
â€œOnly certain kinds of fins are good, and anyway, they have to be dried before being sold. Itâ€™s too much work,â€ he said.
Another seller of shark at the market, Tuni, also from Java, sells un-dried shark fin, however,
â€œPeople come to me looking for the fins, and I sell them separately from the meat. For the fins, I can charge anywhere from Rp250,000 per kilogram up to millions of rupiah,â€ she said.
â€œThe price follows the size of the fins: the bigger they are, the more expensive.â€
Shark was not widely available at the market year-round, she said; peak season was in August.
For local fisherman Andrian Saputra, he only once caught a shark while on the seas.
â€œThereâ€™s only been one time that Iâ€™ve gotten a shark, which weighed 30 kilograms, but it was unintentional. I sold it for Rp9,500 to a seller.â€
The 50-year-old from Banyuwangi in East Java said his catch depended largely on what is snared by his net.
â€œI just cast my net and take whatever fish get trapped in it,â€ he said.