HOW THE TUNA WE BUY IS KILLING SHARKS
Despite its reputation as one of the world's leading dive destinations, Indonesia is home to the worlds largest shark fishery. This is due to Indonesias role as the number one Tuna fishing country in the world. The most recent and available data estimates around 100,000 tonnes of sharks are killed in Indonesia every year. But there is been no publicly available information on shark numbers or the total annual catch since 2016, despite local authorities collecting data.
The port city of Cilacap, Java is one of Indonesia’s largest fishing ports. Tuna fishing is the main target in this remote seaside town in central Java. Boats head out for weeks and use longlines to catch big yellowfin tuna. Found At Sea Collective has come to Cilacap to look into and investigate the amount of sharks caught as by catch on these tuna long lines.
Longline fishing, or longlining, is a commercial fishing method in which there is one main fishing line with many smaller lines hanging off at intervals with baited hooks. Long lines can stretch for hundreds of kilometres with thousands and thousands of baited hooks hanging off the main main. Long lines target pelagic species indiscriminately - anything that is attracted to the bait has the potential to get caught. This method of fishing has one of the highest rates of bycatch.
Shark fishing is legal in Indonesia . The only species of sharks that are protected are whale sharks and sawfish. Hammerheads are allowed to be fished but not ‘exported'. All other shark species are available for exploitation. Despite being listed as a ‘protected species’ - all three of these sharks are still commonly caught through indiscriminate fishing methods and thrown into the mix of shark products coming out of Indonesia. In the Tuna fishing industry, sharks are technically ‘bycatch’ , but a much desired and valuable form of bycatch. The sheer numbers of sharks caught as bycatch on these tuna fishing boats is shocking.
We watch as the tuna fisherman unload their catch after being at sea for only 12 days. A crane is used to lift the frozen fish out of the installed cold storage on the boat. First the ‘Bycatch’ is lifted. I watch in awe as shark after shark is lifted - all without heads or fins. These sausage shaped shark bodies are still recognisable - I try and keep count as the blue sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks and hammerhead sharks sausage shaped bodies are lifted from within the hull. All of the sharks I witness come out of that hull are listed on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species. Scores of boats like this unload here every week, and there are many of these tuna fishing ports spread all over the country.
Next the Tuna is lifted from the main storage unit. The tuna is destined for restaurants in Europe, America and Japan - to consumers whom are mainly unaware of the impact that the tuna they are eating has on the decimation of shark populations.
The act of ‘finning' is illegal in Indonesia - meaning that it is required for the bodies of shark to be landed along with the bags of shark fins. The amount of fins onboard often always outnumber the amount of shark bodies landed. Long lining and shark fining go hand in hand.
Protection of these sharks, let alone a countrywide ban on shark fishing and long lining is a long way away. Until then, unless you’re buying pole & line caught tuna certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, those lifeless sausage shaped sharks coming out of that boat hull might as well be on your supermarket shelf or sushi restaurant menu.