The region that produces nearly 90 percent of the world’s tuna catch is under serious threat due to overfishing and deteriorating environmental factors, a group of government officials, business leaders and conservation groups said.
The area, known as the Coral Triangle, covers 5.7 million square kilometers and includes the territorial waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.
It is home to a tremendous diversity of marine life, including 75 percent of the world’s coral species, the foundation for the ocean’s complex food chain.
Nearly half a billion people depend on the area for their livelihoods. In Indonesia alone, the coral reefs provide an estimated US$1.1 billion in annual economic benefits.
But the tuna industry, one of the primary indicators of the health of the ocean and a driving force in the fishing industry, has markedly diminished in the past few years.
In few other places is the decline more striking than in Jakarta.
“Back in 1994 this was the tuna capital of the world,” said Blane Olson, president of Clearsmoke Technologies, a division of ANOVA, one of the primary importers of tuna to the North American and European markets. “Now it is just a shadow of what it was.”
Just over a decade ago, Olson said boats brought in about 4,000 fish daily to the Jakarta port, which was the main source of tuna for his company.
“Nowadays, it is substantially less than that. The boats are having to travel much further to find fish, their trips are longer. The whole industry here is just in decline because of the lack of fish and also the fuel price,” he said.
There are a number of reasons for the decline. A spike in demand for tuna in North American, Europe and Asia has put added pressure on the industry, leading some companies to overfish or harvest tuna before they are mature. Illegal fishing and illegal fishing methods also damage the ecosystem and can lead to loss of revenue.
Indonesia loses nearly $2 billion a year due to poor enforcement and unsettled territory markers, according to a World Wildlife Fund report.
Climate change may also play a factor. There are some indications that changing ocean temperatures have disrupted the migratory routes of tuna within the Coral Triangle.
In an effort to reverse the trend, a coalition of conservation groups, government officials and business leaders have come together to protect the region.
The coalition, sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and coordinated by the World Wildlife Fund and the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, first met in Bali in Dec. 2007.
Organizers hope to develop a plan of sustainable management for the region that all six nations of the Coral Triangle can sign off on in May of 2009.
The most recent conference, held in Jakarta earlier this month, marks a new strategy for conservation, said Lida Pet Soede of the World Wildlife Fund. Efforts in the past have focused on preservation but failed to take into account the needs of the fishing industry.
“We were wondering if there are other ways, where markets can also become a part of the solution,” Lida said. “We want to understand what kind of economic incentives we can use so that we can manage tuna a little bit better, so that we have a sustainable industry.”
The particular needs of each country need to be taken into consideration, Lida said.
For example, Papua New Guinea has waters rich with tuna but does not consume the fish itself. As a result, Papua is more concerned with controlling the fishing rights of foreign companies within its waters. In contrast, countries such as Japan and the United States, both big consumers of tuna, are focused on ensuring a steady supply of tuna.
“Different countries have different economic targets,” Lida said.
Indonesia, as does the Philippines, has an added challenge because it both produces and consumes tuna. Lida calls the situation here “more complex”.
The plan for the Coral Triangle calls for improving technology for more efficient harvesting, educating consumers about the need for better practices and providing a supportive environment for businesses that use sustainable fishing techniques.
A key element of the plan is the recognition that countries such as Indonesia provide not only an important product, but also a valuable long-term role in the preservation of the marine environment. Leading up to the signing of the plan, participating nations will focus on making their case to the more developed, consumer countries.
The United States announced in October that it was pledging $40 million to be used in protection of the Coral Triangle.
In the meantime, business leaders are taking note.
“For us, the Coral Triangle — because it is a spawning area for fish and also a main production area for the fish — is extremely important for the longevity of our business,” Blane Olson said. “So it’s very important for us to be involved.”
ANOVA has pledged not to use large scale trawling, nor to hunt with sonar or buy from fisherman who use purse seines (huge nets that capture an entire school of fish at once), according to the company’s website.
In the end, what is needed is a balance between preservation and economics, Lida said.
“People are going to harvest, people need their livelihoods, there is a demand,” she said of fishing tuna.
“But where can you find win-win solutions so you don’t over harvest, so you don’t break the basis for the economy? This is what is needed so that we all can continue to enjoy it and have a good life.”
Article by Dorian Merina, an intern with The Jakarta Post.
Souce: The Jakarta Post