Cut off: A fisherman cuts off a shark fin leaving the rest of the body untouched. Courtesy of Jürgen FREUND / WWF-Canon
People have mixed reactions to the word “shark”; the aquatic beast infamous for its attacks. This aggressive image has long sullied sharks’ reputation despite data proving that their attacks are relatively rare. In fact, humans are more of a threat to sharks than the other way round.
According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF), there were 80 incidents of sharks attacking humans last year and seven people died. The death toll was lower than in 2011, but higher than the average recorded from 2001 to 2010.
Globally, it is estimated that at least 26 million sharks are killed each year — mostly for their fins —statistics such as these have prompted movements around the world to save sharks from exploitation.
At home, campaigns to save sharks began to appear over the past three or four years.
Riyanni Djangkaru, editor-in-chief of diving magazine Divemag Indonesia, said many local television programs encouraged people to eat and catch sharks. She said she often received reports from her friends about restaurants that offered shark fin on their menu.
Caught up: A bycatch shark. In Indonesia, around 70 percent of sharks caught are bycatch, the remainder is specifically targeted. Courtesy of Jürgen FREUND / WWF-Canon
Two years ago she decided to utilize social media to promote a #shavesharks campaign.
“At first people only asked about what I did about the campaign, but gradually, people started to take part in the campaign. They posted pictures of restaurants or supermarkets that had shark meat or fins along with the #savesharks hash tag,” Riyanni said.
As a result of the messages, some restaurants approached Riyanni and told her that they had stopped serving shark.
“After a while, I contacted them again — but withheld my real-name — and asked if they had shark fin soup or not for delivery,” she said.
“I hope there more restaurants and hotels follow suit, because according to research, shark contains mercury and is toxic to our body,” Riyanni said.
Sharks are slow to mature and only have a couple of pups at a time, thus, the over exploitation of sharks will lead to environmental damage.
Shark on the run: A competitor dressed as a shark runs the London Marathon on Sunday. AP/Cecile Brisson
Sat atop of the food chain, sharks keep the species below them in check. They also keep the ecosystem healthy because of their hunting behavior. If their numbers were depleted to a dangerous level the system would be severely affected, right down to the water quality.
Riyanni’s campaign has inspired others to do the same and Yosefine Yaputri is one of them.
After attempting to champion her cause through Twitter and blog posts, she was dissatisfied with the result.
“Then I thought of a more direct way to reach out to people and made this Gerakan 1,000 orang dukung #savesharks [The movement of 1,000 people to support #savesharks],” she said.
To do this Yosefine directly spoke to people about her campaign.
“If they [wanted to be involved in the campaign], I took pictures of them holding a piece of paper that had a message that said they were shark savers,” she said.
In only two months, Yosefine collected around 1,100 pictures.
Yosefine also won a trip to Raja Ampat, West Papua, to observe shark conservation. The Raja Ampat administration is very concerned about its shark population, so much so that it in 2012, it issued Regional Regulation (Perda) No. 9 on banning shark and manta ray hunting, which carries at least a six-month jail term and a fine of Rp 50 million (US$5,148).
The central government is also drafting a regulation to ban hunting certain shark species. The decision came after the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (COP CITES) included four species of sharks in its Appendix II list — a list of species that are not yet threatened with extinction, but trade should be closely controlled.
Toni Ruchimat, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry’s director general of conservation areas and fish species, said the regulation would be ready in a few months and would take effect by the end of the year.
“We are planning to make the status of the decree restricted rather than inclusive, meaning fishermen can still fish within the quota,” he said, adding that the quota would be decided by the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
According to the ministry, 72 percent of sharks caught in Indonesia are by-catch, and the remaining 28 percent — recorded in NTT, NTB, West Papua, Papua and Maluku — were the main target.
Toni said the government had conducted an awareness campaign regarding the drafted regulation in those areas.
“We have also talked with fishing communities several times; they mostly disagreed with the plan because shark hunting is their main source of income,” he said.
He said the government discussed solutions, such as alternative employment in seaweed cultivation and the sustainable tourism industry.
The Ministry issued regulations No. 9 and No. 12 in 2012 on fishing business, which stipulated that fishermen should not catch juvenile or pregnant sharks —especially thresher sharks — and if caught, they had to be immediately released.
“If they don’t adhere to this our tuna exports, one of our biggest export commodities, will be banned,” Toni said.
Save me: A woman holds up a statement of support for the save the shark campaign at a recent diving exhibition in Jakarta. Courtesy of WWF-Indonesia
According to Conservation International, Indonesia is the world’s biggest shark exporter, with 15 percent of the world’s shark fins and manta ray gill plates coming from here. Sharks are valued between Rp 100,000 and Rp 1.3 million; therefore, many people living in coastal areas find the financial benefits attractive.
WWF Indonesia’s public campaigner Aulia Rahman said the high demand on sharks had prompted high exploitation of sharks.
“Besides dissuading people from consuming shark meat, the WWF also encourages suppliers to stop buying and selling sharks,” he said, adding that only a couple of companies in Indonesia had agreed to it.