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Jakarta Post

Jakarta fishermen keep sailing despite adversity

  • Callistasia Anggun Wijaya
    Callistasia Anggun Wijaya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, April 21, 2016   /  04:10 pm
Jakarta fishermen keep sailing despite adversity Fishermen in a wooden boat set sail at dawn in Muara Angke, North Jakarta on Tuesday. ( Anggun Wijaya)

On a cloudy morning on Wednesday, a wooden boat was approaching the dock made of bamboo in Kali Adem port in Muara Angke of North Jakarta. Local fishermen gradually got off of the boat after sailing through the night to go fishing.

A middle-aged man named Catim stepped out the vessel and slowly tied a rope to the dock. His sunburnt face expressed nothing but disappointment as he moved the fish from a styrofoam container inside the boat to a blue plastic bucket.

For more than 10 hours, he has fought the wind and raging waves in the Jakarta Bay to catch fish with conventional means. However, he only brought home a small amount of fish as his fishing hook caught more trash than fish.

Catim is a prominent fisherman in Muara Angke. Among residents of the fishermen's village, Catim is mostly known for his skills after catching 100 kilograms of fish by himself two years ago.

Those were his glorious days. On that gloomy Wednesday morning, meanwhile, Catim looked at his meagre catch with resentment.

"This is not even valuable. That is all I managed to catch all night long," Catim said, pointing to some small fish in the blue bucket.

Saudi, another fisherman, was out of luck, too, with only four fish caught throughout the night, including a snapper and a catfish.

The two of them walked reluctantly to a gazebo used by vendors to weigh the fish. The scales pointed to numbers below 30 kilograms.

Fishing conditions in the waters off Jakarta’s coast had drastically changed over the past five years, said Yopi, who buys the fish from the fishermen before selling it on to vendors at the fish market.

"Several years ago, we wouldn't have had time to talk to journalists like you in the morning. We would be busy weighing the fish, which would fill this whole gazebo. Now look at us," Yopie said, pointing to some men playing chess.

He recalled that in 2011 traditional fishermen could collectively catch 80 to 100 tons of fish per day.

Now, the fishermen would be grateful if they got 50 kilograms a day.

Such amount has decreased compared to two or three years ago. Galur said that he could get Rp 1 million to Rp 2 million for a day of sailing.

The fishermen faced many difficulties in doing their job today, from trash in the ocean to the construction of islets blocking their sailing area.

Another fisherman, Galur, 33, who has been in the business since the age of nine, admitted that lately his daily income had decreased rapidly, which he blamed on the land reclamation project.

There was one particularly bad day when Galur only brought home Rp 15,000 (US$1.14). If he was lucky, he could make Rp 250,000 to Rp 500,000 a day, a stark contrast to the income he regularly got two or three years ago, which would be up to Rp 2 million from a night of sailing.

Saudi, who also started fishing at a young age, agreed that lately the occupation had become less profitable.

"As fishermen, we don’t aspire to be rich. As long as we can eat and our children are not hungry, we are already grateful,” Saudi said.

Environmentalists have slammed land reclamation work in the Jakarta Bay for environmental degradation and a decrease in the fish population.

The Jakarta Bay contains a lot of toxic substances from all the waste from the capital that finds its way into the bay through 13 rivers. The reclamation project has worsened the pollution.

The fishermen said they felt the impact from the reclamation project around six months ago as they noticed the water becoming dirtier. The stack of sand building up the reclaimed islets had also caused a reduction in fish in what used to be their fishing areas.

Some of the fishermen now have to sail further to Muara Gembong, Karawang and Bekasi in West Java to catch more fish. This, of course, means digging deeper into their pockets for fuel.

Before the construction of Islet G, Saudi said he needed 15 liters of diesel for sailing. Now, he needed at least 35 liters, costing him Rp 280,000 per day.

Yopi questioned the leadership style of Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, slamming Jakarta’s Governor for not involving fishermen in decision-making on policies for North Jakarta and the Jakarta Bay.

Some fishermen from Muara Angke and Kali Adem came to the City Council on Tuesday to push councilors to urge the city administration to revoke all permits related to reclamation work that had harmed their livelihood.

Ahok claimed the fishermen's protest was politically motivated.

"I really want to spread the net in front of Ahok's face while he's here, so he knows that we can still find fish here," Saudi said.

A local fisherman caught a white snapper using fishing string and hook in Muara Angke of North Jakarta on Tuesday.( Anggun Wijaya)

Islet security

Most of the fishermen said they had not heard of the reclamation project until they saw the construction of Islets C, D and G.

Yopie said he saw people creating piles in the sea last year, without knowing that it was part of a land reclamation project.

Meanwhile, the construction of Islet G, conducted by Agung Podomoro Land (APL) subsidiary PT Muara Wisesa Samudra, has separated the fishermen from their previous catchment area.

Speedboat security patrols by the giant developer often expelled the fishermen when they got within 200 to 300 meters of the islet.

“My boat was hit by their boat until it was almost broken,” fisherman Galur said.

Currently, although the central government has ordered a moratorium on the controversial project for 17 man-made islets in Jakarta Bay, sand-dredging equipment for Islet G is still in operation.

Security patrol speedboats were also seen to guard the islet by going around it continuously.

“The government has said the reclamation should be stopped. Then, why are these people still working?” a fisherman named Hasim asked angrily. (rin)

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