Years ago, research conducted on fishing communities in Indonesia, sought to determine the reason that any one fishing expedition would come to a close. The answer become clear when speaking with the fishermen themselves…
“We come back when the boat is full of fins, or when we’ve run out of cigarettes. These days we always run out of cigarettes first”.
The fishermen and the artisanal fishing communities they were part of, had revealed a sad fact, largely due to the global shark trade, the ocean was changing in a dramatic way. Not long ago, sharks averaged less than two precent of the catch produced by fisheries in Indonesia. Then at the beginning of the 21st century, Indonesia was the world’s leading shark producer. Their fins became the prize, their status and the laws protecting them became insignificant hurdles, and their decline became imminent.
I was brought to Indonesia to document this trade, dead sharks to the left of me; their fins separated and sitting in piles around me. Maggots have begun to crawl out of the sewers and blood is everywhere. There are maybe 80 sharks here, and some of them are bigger than any shark I’ve ever seen in the wild, some species I’ve only seen in books. At this moment I began to think of how I could possibly work my way into this issue to effectively create change as an individual. It wasn’t until a year later I would return with a very different intention. I originally travelled to this market to expose the shark trade and the men at it’s heart…I went back, to offer those men an alternative.
‘Project Hiu’, Hiu being the Indonesian word for Shark, is an initiative which aims to provide alternative income to fishermen in one of the largest shark fisheries in Indonesia, and the world. By hiring the shark fishing boats and locals that man them, we sought to engage the fisherman in a very different role. Tourism. A natural, alternative income that simultaneously and effectively protects sharks. Project Hiu is founded on the recognition that the very solution to saving sharks, lay with the men raised to kill them.
This small village and the fishermen we work with represent far more than a simple project, they represent the preservation of a vast ocean that connects us all, and an opportunity to drive a wedge between the hard working, often desperate fishermen and the foreign buyers who profit from them. We also address the need for our presence to benefit the entire community. An incentive for a whole village to choose tourism over fishing, we re-invest project capital, which in turn aids community development projects such as waste management, and education programs.
Shark fishermen are the villains of most stories, but the hero’s in ours. These men deserve an income free from the threat of prosecution, and the many dangers they face spending weeks away from their families. They deserve a secure future that doesn’t rely on the fishing of these apex predators. In a rapidly changing ocean, our approach must change too. The goal of Project Hiu is to improve conditions above and below the surface, and enforce the idea that one person, and one shark fishermen, can make a difference.