Biologist Peter Rudolph (Rudolph.P@t-online.de) has reported on the amazing diversity of cetaceans in these waters (see Observations on cetaceans). On 22 May he reported that "these nets are set by Taiwanese. Bitung is one of the most important harbors in eastern Indonesia. It is one of the stops of the Taiwanese fishing fleet working in the Arafura and Banda Sea (this is the same fleet formerly working in northern Australian waters, with a very high bycatch). Bitung is also a very important military harbor. According to Indonesian fishermen working on Taiwanese boats in the Banda Sea, most of the bycatch is not discarded, but is stored and transported to Taiwan." Additional information suggests an enormous market including the Philippines, Korea, Japan, and China.
A 3 April video included the slaughter of a whaleshark. Please contact Morris for all documentation, including net descriptions, and the names of people, boats, companies, packing and shipping operations, and potential markets associated with this fishery. There is an urgent need to expand and substantiate all information.
The minke whales reported are probably the "small-form Bryde's whales", which may be a separate species (possibly B. edeni) endemic to shallow waters of Southeast Asia, and may be a relatively small population for this species, highly vulnerable to overexploitation. The whale shark is also of concern, particularly to CITES, partly because of the development of very lucrative markets for shark fins. There is no official fishery monitoring or regulation. The sharks seem to be migrating through the area and may be a significant part of the stock(s) of the whole Southeast Asian region. Attempts are being made to identify the dolphin species taken. Some, such as the finless porpoise, the Irrawaddy dolphin, endemic dwarf spinner dolphin, and the hump-backed dolphin, occur in relatively small, localized populations and would be highly vulnerable to depletion. The markets for this fishery may be widespread and difficult to control. One potential is to expand the capability to identify whale meat sold in different parts of the world, to identify all the specifically targeted species of concern to specific markets. (William F. Perrin, (firstname.lastname@example.org), 29 May)
Fresh and frozen specimens sampled by DNA in Taiwan come from uncertain origins. The cetacean-fisheries problem in Taiwan has been recorded (1994-1997) and is soon to be analyzed and published. The government's attitude in regard to fishing is that all fishermen have a right to make a living for themselves with whatever method they decide except that they cannot use explosives, electricity or toxins within Taiwan's waters. (John Wang (wangjy@mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA), 30 May)
There are various reports linking military and government authorities to this operation, and enforcement of environmental regulations is very ineffectual. "By 15 May, eyewitnesses reported the disappearance of one of the Tangkoko Trap Nets -- although the concrete pylons remain". This may or may not have been an early reaction to the publicity, but the nets will probably be reinstalled or used elsewhere in the region.
Local government offices, such as the harbor master, Fisheries Department, Forestry Department, Coast Guard, and the Bitung Police, have all stated that they are unaware of any irregularities. The Indonesian government was one of the major co-sponsors of the 1995 United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, agreeing to all eleven Articles implemented. It is believed that the Central government in Jakarta has had little knowledge of the full extent of the actions of this fishery.
The Bitung operation is reported to have increased its fleet from one fiberglass skiff to include three much larger ships with crews of 15-20 men each, making trips two or three times a day to each net, some days working on a 24-hour basis due to large catches. A second pier is being built to expand operations further. It is believed that many of these Taiwanese (and other) boats are connected directly or indirectly to the movement, distribution, and sale of the packed hauls, by-passing the normally required legal documentation, not registering the actual take, and not paying taxes or upholding quotas. It is believed that at least three more of these nets exist along the Suluwesi coastline, operated by the same company. There may be many others operated by other companies at different locations within Indonesia operating beyond the control and monitoring of proper authorities.
No fish species are covered under CITES. CITES has been struggling for years on the issue of highly migratory marine species and how to regulate trade; control of the trade is impossible, even if the species were listed. Possible action: support U.S. effort to have a CITES Working Group on Marine Species, which has been contested by Japan in the past. Dolphins and turtles are covered by CITES. CITES jurisdiction would require proof that there was a directed fishery for trade in those species. Taiwan would undoubtedly deny this, claiming it is bycatch. International fisheries agreements would not apply unless Indonesia has specified participation in the agreement/convention within their territorial waters. There are no international agreements on sharks or rays. (Karen Steuer (Karen.Steuer@mail.house.gov) 30 May).
Suggested action: Public pressure on the Indonesian and Taiwanese governments in every possible forum may help. (See Read the Evidence for a sample letter) Indonesia's unenforced domestic laws governing these areas may have some use. Local NGOs must get involved. However, due to the potential for punitive actions against them, the international community of NGOs must support them fully.
Cetacean Society International is acting only as a facilitator for the issue. We ask that any NGO with CITES or other appropriate affiliations consider joining in a coalition designed to stop this situation.
William W. Rossiter, President, Cetacean Society International,
Steve Morris (email@example.com)
Background to Establishment of S.E.A. Reef Relief
6/23/97: Lembeh Strait Preservation Society
Marine Life is Dying: Do You Care?
Where did it Happen?
Read the Evidence (Letter to the Minister of Environment in Indonesia)
a Whale Shark
Update on Manado Walls of Death: November 1997