Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry is considering a plan to issue a decree banning shark and manta ray hunting, after a provincial administration in West Papua issued such a regulation to conserve the sea creatures.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Sharif Cicip Sutardjo said on Tuesday that the Raja Ampat administration had taken a major leap in fighting shark hunting by issuing regional regulation (banning shark and manta ray hunting.
"I really hope that the actions of the Raja Ampat administration encourages other regions to follow suit, especially areas like East Nusa Tenggara [NTT] and West Nusa Tenggara [NTB], where sharks remain under threat," Sharif said at the National Symposium on Shark Protection on Tuesday.
Last week, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (COP CITES) included four species of sharks in its Appendix II list - a list of species that are not yet threatened with extinction, but the trade of which should be closely controlled.
Indonesia, which has ratified the treaty that aims to protect precious timber and marine species from over-exploitation, is expected to respond to the conference's result.
"The ministry is preparing a ministerial decree to ban shark hunting that will be ready in around three months, and we will socialise the decree in all of the country's provinces," he added.
Shark hunting in waters off the eastern part of Indonesia, including the provinces of NTT, NTB, West Papua and Papua, as well as Maluku, is still taking place at an alarming rate, Sharif said. "Sharks are at the top of the food chain, and their extinction could cause serious damage to our ecosystem," he said.
Separately, Raja Ampat Regent Marcus Wanma said the regency was home to 75 per cent of the world's coral reef types, as well as 1,320 species of fish.
The decreasing number of sharks and manta rays has affected the ecosystem, causing a decline in the number of tourists visiting the regency's underwater attractions as well.
"Shark hunting is a big threat to the economy and ecosystem in Raja Ampat. Based on this, the administration decided to issue this regulation solely to protect the sustainability of the regency," Marcus said.
Issued in October 2012, the regulation stipulates anybody caught hunting any species of shark or manta ray will face at least a six month jail term and a fine of 50 million rupiah (US$5,148).
"Most hunters are foreigners, because the local community in Raja Ampat are more dependent on the tourism sector," Marcus said.
Separately, Mark Erdmann, a senior adviser to Conservation International's marine program, said Indonesia was the world's biggest shark exporter, with 15 per cent of the world's shark fins and manta ray gill plates coming from Indonesia.
Erdmann said a slain shark was valued from 100,000 to 1.3 million rupiah, and is therefore considered a profitable trade by many living in coastal areas.
"The ban on shark hunting has raised concerns as it threatens the livelihoods of local fishermen, but actually local communities can benefit more from underwater tourism if they allowed sharks and manta rays to live," Erdmann said.
He said in the tourism industry, the attraction of one shark pulled in around 300 million to 1.8 billion rupiah per year, around 18 billion rupiah in its lifetime. He added that a slain manta ray was valued at around US$40 to $200, but could be worth around US$1.9 million in its lifetime if left to reside in a tourism destination.
"Manta ray tourism gives the country a total income of US$15 million per year, while manta ray hunting only brings in around US$570,000 per year," he said. "The numbers show which side is more profitable."