My first trip to Lombok to check up on the shark fishing / finning there proved eventful indeed.
We woke up bright and early for 2 out of the 4 days I had in Lombok, to have Agus take us down to the fish market at Tanjung Luar where a couple of environmental groups had already visited with regards to the growing catches of endangered marine life including thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks and manta rays. On our first visit, we saw 3 juvenile sized sharks being brought in, a young hammerhead and thresher among them. Heart wrenching as it was to see them dead even before I could get to dive with any of them, I knew I was here on a mission to find out more and I definitely had to keep my emotions at bay and in check as we asked questions with the help of Agus. We saw a rich looking Indonesian eyeing the shark carcasses as he measured the length of their fins with his fingertips, walking circles around them and it wasn’t long before another one came with a huge knife to hack off the fins from the sharks. Gathered, they came up to about a kilogram in weight and costed USD600. Compared to the shark meat which only cost USD1.50 per kilo, the fin was heavily prized. About an hour later, another boat came in and we saw 6 more reef sharks brought in, each about 2meters in length. As they were lugged into the market area, we met a student from the Mataram University who had been researching on sharks caught at Tanjung Luar for the past 6 months already, he had all the data on the average numbers, (43! our first day there was a lull as a result of the Ramadan) the species and lengths of the catch brought in every other day. It was surreal to see the fin traders borrow the student’s tape measure when they saw he had one, to measure out the length of the fins and determine their worth. We did not stay to watch the actual removal of fins for the second batch but it was sobering enough a first visit, especially since there was a sign by the fish market that said thresher sharks and dolphins were not allowed to be caught, which was all but half ripped.
On our second visit, I was rather thankful to not see any sharks being brought in but one fisherman actually had a basin of 4 baby sharks which were quickly snapped up before we could see it happen. We managed to interview a fishermen who shared about his experiences baiting sharks and the kind of life he led. It was a tough one and they had to be out at sea for up to 17 days without any guarantee of good catch. It was harsh and dangerous with no promise of a stable income and sadly, his wife had left him after he had been out at sea too much. He was kind enough to bring us to his village just by the fish market so we could get a glimpse of their lives. With information that dolphins could be spotted in December, at least that glimmer for me that we could offer up dolphin watching as alternative tourism livelihood to keep the fishermen from the sharks.
Here is more information with jarring images about what used to be dolphin killing (but the shark killing is still ongoing) at Lombok, by Paul Hilton: