“Because of the fish bombing, we lost hectares of coral reef. People also cut down mangroves, which caused some fish species to disappear,” said Abdul Kalam, the King of Buano Island.
Before Kalam was customarily elected as the King of Buano Island, destructive fishing had been a common practice in the area. Every day, explosions were heard near fishing boats that were trying to catch fish as many as they could, the fastest and easiest way, even if illegal.
With his law enforcement background – serving more than 30 years as a police officer in Tual, Kei Island – Kalam implemented some rules to stop the fish bombing in 2010. Those who are caught using fish bombs, chemical poison, or cutting mangroves should pay a fine. However his strong effort did not go smoothly at the beginning. Some of the villagers refused to obey the village rule and still caught fish using bombs.
“Many villagers did not know the destructive impacts of fish bombings that would eventually deplete the fish stocks. Issuing a village decree to stop fish bombings would not work without educating the villagers about the huge loss we could suffer if we keep doing destructive fishing practices. They had no idea that protecting marine ecosystem was crucial to protect their livelihood. It is for our own benefit. It is to ensure that in the future, the ocean could still provide us with fish,” he said.
The village rules coupled with a series of awareness activities have been proven effective in combatting fish bombing in Buano Island. Five years later, these unsustainable practices have stopped.
Kalam said that sometimes “sasi” was implemented to maintain the fish stocks. Through this local custom, the harvest of some commodities will be governed. The King will decide the commodities and will determine the harvesting time. When sasi opens, all villagers will catch fish together. The revenue generated will be utilized for collective community needs, such as a social community gathering.
“I remember when we ran sasi. The villagers did respect it. However there were fishers coming from neighboring villages with huge boats and caught fish in our village at night time. A villager reported to me and I came to them and cut their fishing nets. The day after, the fishers left and never returned to our village“ Kalam expressed his anger when telling a story about the fishers who illegally entered the closed sasi area.
Buano Island in West Seram Sea is a little-known but is an ecologically important island inhabited by two communities. It hosts Valentine Strait, a critical area for fisheries spawning and source of fish larvae for several islands in the area. Buano Island also hosts several charismatic marine species such as manta rays, turtles, sharks and cetacean, and has a complete and intact coastal ecosystem with mangrove, seagrass and coral reefs.