The government is seeking to restrict shark fishing in a way that will not severely hurt fishermen in the country, which has become one of the world's largest suppliers of shark fins.
The best option may be a quota system, though it would be difficult to enforce, director of fish species conservation from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry Agus Dermawan said.
Entailed in the quota system, the government would issue a new regulation establishing the status of shark species at the end of this year, he said.
'We are still discussing the regulation with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences [LIPI], which will determine what four species of sharks should be inserted into appendix II [the table on protected species],' he said on Friday.
He added that sharks listed in appendix II could still be caught and sold but only in limited number as per the quota set by the government.
The government recently issued a ministerial decree on shark protection status in May this year. The regulation stipulates that whale sharks ( rhincodon typus ), which can grow to more than 12 meters long and live up to 100 years old, have full protection status.
Agus said this meant killing a whale shark for any reason was strictly prohibited.
Besides whale sharks, other shark species, including the largetooth sawfish ( pristis microdon ) and the thresher shark ( alopias vulpinus ), also have protected status under other government regulations.
Regulations on shark protection fall under the government's compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( CITES ), a multilateral treaty created in a 1963 meeting of World Conservation Union ( IUCN ) members.
Indonesia participated in ratifying the endangered species convention in 1973 and adopted it into a presidential decree, No. 43/1978, which allows Indonesia to issue and implement regulations on endangered species in line with that international treaty.
There is high demand in the international market for shark fins, especially from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Along with India, Indonesia is one of the largest exporters of shark fins in the world.
According to the National Statistics Agency ( BPS ), Indonesia's shark fin exports reached 434 tons worth about US$6 million in 2012
Fisheries program leader from the World Wide Fund ( WWF ) Indonesia Imam Musthofa Zainudin said that most of the time the negotiating process within countries to decide types of endangered flora and fauna was politically loaded.
'Indonesia in the very beginning refused to adopt regulations on the endangered shark trade. However, in 2012, Indonesia backed regulation,' he said.
He chalked up Indonesia's official refusal to regulate the shark trade to pressure from businessmen from countries such as China, Japan and the United States.
The government's move to finally issue regulations on endangered sharks had put Indonesia one step ahead of other top shark fin producers, Imam said.
Agus from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry said that in Indonesia many fishermen relied on shark fishing for their livelihoods because it was highly profitable.
According to a 2010 survey from the fisheries department of the Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO ), Indonesia was the largest supplier of sharks in the world, with 109,248 tons of sharks being caught per year, followed by India with 74,050 tons and Spain with 59,777 tons. The number has grown significantly since 2000, when shark fishing really took off in Indonesia. At that time, Indonesia caught 70,000 tons of sharks.
'I don't care about the regulation. As long as the demand in the village market is still robust I will catch and sell sharks,' said 37-year-old Goro ( not his real name ), a fisherman from Keruak village in East Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.
He added that he had no choice as climate change had caused his fish catch to decline. He said that he fished for sharks in a small motorboat with a pole and line. Goro is only one of an estimated 2.2 million fishermen nationwide whose livelihoods are being threatened by the impacts of climate change. Goro said that to survive he had shifted from tuna to shark fishing, which was more profitable.
'If you only aim to catch tuna nowadays you will often come back empty,' he said.
Secretary general of the People's Coalition for Fisheries Justice Indonesia ( KIARA ) Abdul Halim said that society should not put the blame for rampant shark fishing on the traditional fishermen.
'It is important to know that the fishermen are only workers. They have no choice because this is the job that will provide money for them,' he said, adding that the government thereby needed to provide alternative opportunities for the fishermen to reduce shark fishing.
The issuance of regulations on the shark trade had already affected fishermens' income. Goro said that the price of shark fin in the village market had declined from Rp 1.6 million ( US$140.92 ) per kilogram to Rp 700,000 per kilogram.
Chairman of the Indonesian Fisheries Product Processing and Marketing Association Thomas Darmawan said that he supported the government's move to protect endangered shark species. However, he didn't advocate for a total ban on the shark trade.
'Even if the government gave punitive sanctions, you would still have an illegal shark trade, which would be more difficult for the government to supervise,' he said.
He added that it would be better for the government to impose an annual quota on shark trading rather than ban it completely. 'Our target is to reduce the annual shark catch to less than 100,000 tons without ignoring the fact that our fishermen have to earn a living,' he said. ( tam )