VIEWPOINT : Moving towards a more responsible life reef food fish industry
Reading the contributions to this month's newsletter by my colleagues, I agree that this month was a grouper month indeed. And I too have my own grouper story to share.
Diving in Komodo with my Indonesian colleagues recently, we hit the jackpot as it was close to a full moon and we saw loads of grouper starting to display spawning behavior.
As WWF-Indonesia is starting to work in Komodo, adding value to what has been established by The Nature Conservancy in previous years and to current efforts by the park authority, local government, and local dive operators, it is reassuring to know that reef fish populations appear in relative good condition.
The price of protectionThis comes as a welcome development, since just a little over a year ago, some disturbing reports came from Komodo about groups of fishers from Sumbawa blasting some of the reefs for a quick catch, leaving some of the top dive sites destroyed.
Park authorities have since stepped up enforcement against this illegal way of fishing, which is crucial to the sustainability of the growing tourism industry in the area that employs many local people.
The next priority will be to step up compliance with the zonation and management plan in Komodo, which stipulates that all reefs are off-limits to fishing. The local fishers who live in and around Komodo National park are fishing for small pelagic fish and squid mostly and don't depend on the reef fish for their livelihood.
This way, the tourism sector can be guaranteed that their "asset" remains in good shape drawing divers from all over Indonesia and the world, and the national park can provide a significant ecological function in reseeding reefs around it.
More work to be doneJust a few weeks earlier, I enjoyed a beautiful steamed grouper provided by a WWF-Indonesia Seafood Savers partner who is the biggest exporter of live grouper in Indonesia.
A representative mentioned how he could not participate in an upcoming Dutch TV documentary featuring the live reef food fish trade, as it is scheduled for that time of the year when he awaits the renewal of his business export licenses and wouldn’t want to jeopardize his chances.
Over the past years, he has been under a lot of pressure by some of his competitors (who don't operate sustainably unfortunately) to stop communicating so much about the insufficient management of his industry and the live reef fish trade in Indonesia.
As I struggle to fully enjoy this beautifully prepared fresh fish (the notion that it's not responsible to eat these species generally appears engrained in my DNA), I wonder if WWF needs to start taking a stronger position in exposing the bad players in this trade.
Towards the right trajectoryToday I read through expert witness accounts of the live reef fish trade programme in the Philippines. Funded by the USAID Coral Triangle Support Partnership, our WWF colleagues and their local partners are proving how this fishery can be significantly improved in the course of 3 to 4 years, thereby facilitating responsible fisheries for this industry that has wreaked havoc on reefs across the Coral Triangle region for too long.
Looking at the pictures of these beautiful grouper species, I must say that finally, I believe we may be turning a corner toward a responsibly managed industry.