The recent decision by Gerokgak fishermen to catch ornamental fish using only eco-friendly methods has been put to the test as they struggle to get proper prices for their fish.
The fishermen had earlier organized a series of marketing promotions, in which they introduced higher prices for their fish than those that caught using potassium cyanide, a poisonous chemical known as potas to locals.
Syaiful Anam, one of the fishermen, said the buyers kept telling them they could not differentiate between ornamental fish caught by a net and those using poisonous chemicals, so they could not see any justification for buying the eco-friendly fish at a higher price.
“Up to this date, our promotional efforts are failing even though we already tell them that there are differences between the fish that have been caught using only a net and those using chemicals. The eco-friendly fish are fresher and therefore can live longer than those caught by potas,” he told The Jakarta Post recently.
Abu Kasim, another fisherman, said even though the problem remain unsettled, he would continue catching fish using a net because he believed this was the best way to preserve the environment. Kasim has even devised an alternative way to catch more fish without creating a destructive impact on the coral reef and the water. He sets traps that are attached to a net in front of the coral reef, which is where the fish eat and live. He said the trap was safe because it was made from woven dried coconut leaves. Both Kasim and Syaiful said they now earn less compared to when they fished with potas. In the past, they could earn up to Rp 100,000 (around US$11) a day, while now they take home maybe Rp 25,000 to Rp 30,000 daily.
The fishermen of Gerokgak beach, located in the northern coastal regency of Buleleng, some 100 kilometers north of Denpasar, used to catch ornamental fish using potassium cyanide up until around three years ago, when the Buleleng Marine and Fishery Agency and activists from a coalition of NGOs urged them to halt the practice because they were destroying the coral reef and the whole marine environment.
The coalition of NGOs included the Gerokgak-based Pilang Institute, Jakarta-based Lead Network and the Denpasar-based Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) and Reef Check Foundation. Lead Network and Pilang Institute are known for their efforts to help improve living standards for marginalized communities, while Reef Check and MAC work to preserve coral reefs and the sea environment.
As many as 193 fishermen from four villages in Gerokgak have made the move to more environmentally sound fishing practices.
Ni Made Indrawati of Pilang Institute acknowledges the marketing support plans have not been totally successful, but she said there was a light at the end of the tunnel, as the NGO has succeeded in cooperating with C.V Blue Star, an ornamental fish exporter in Bali. The company had agreed to buy fish from the fishermen at higher prices.
The management of the export company, she said, has begun to understand that fish captured using eco-friendly methods are of a better quality than those caught using chemicals. Therefore, she said, higher prices are required as an appreciation and also as an incentive to fishermen. However, she acknowledged the exporter was prepared to pay higher prices only for around 30 of the some 85 different types of ornamental fish caught by the fishermen.
“It takes time to convince the buyers to buy all eco-friendly fish at higher prices,” she said. She hopes the government, through the local maritime affairs and fisheries office, can help encourage exporters to buy only ornamental fish caught using eco-friendly methods.
Lead Network’s executive director Darwina Sri Widjajanti said she planned to ask more NGOs to join the coalition to help the fishermen market their products.
“I have several names in mind right now, such as the Dian Desa and Cindelaras foundations, and we are ready to ask them to join the project,” she said.
Both Yogyakarta-based Dian Desa and Cindelaras foundations are known for assisting and improving living standards in villages.
An official at the Buleleng Maritime Affairs and Fishery Agency, Eddy Sutrisno, said the office had held a series of discussions with fishermen and exporters on how to design and conduct better marketing strategies to boost fish prices in the market.
“We are still deliberating on how to encourage the buyers to buy eco-friendly fish, including punishing them if we find evidence that potas is involved in the catching process,” he said.
Source: The Jakarta Post – February 18, 2008
By Dicky Christanto, Gerokgak