Based on my fieldwork since 1996 in eastern Indonesia, the role of a local economic institution called “Punggawa Sawi” (patron-client) is important in sustaining such practices. The crews in the fishing boats (generally poor fishermen) rely on the instructions given by their supervisors or the boat owners. The “big boss” tends to instruct the crew to increase the catch by any means.
For example, in Kapoposang Island, Barrang Caddi Island and the Galesong coastal region near Makassar, about 50 percent of the fishermen’s incomes come from destructive fishing practices. They mainly catch the fish using dynamite or poisons.
Research indicates the damage to coral reefs is also caused by illegal fishing, anchoring, coral bleaching and siltation. It is an irony that the dynamite fishing has intensively continued. Most big fishermen use bombs, dynamite or poisons to catch high-value fishes, such as snappers and lobsters. According to research, 2.83 percent of the 7,569 boats operating in Spermonde have used illegal fishing techniques; of these, 86.5 percent used dynamite and 10.8 percent poison (sources: YKL Indonesia and DFW Indoesia). Despite the restrictions last issued by the local authorities, there are many indications of the expansive use of dynamite by fishermen in the outer islands. Although in some cases the fishermen risk their own lives, such methods have remained popular.
“To date, there is no significant effort from government, especially from prosecutors or police to ban this practice,” said Irman Idrus, chairman of Destructive Fishing Watch in Jakarta. “The stories of destructive fishing are continuing due to potential corruption, collusion and nepotism (called KKN). Indonesian authorities consider the fishermen who conduct dynamite fishing or fish bombings as someone who is keeping or hiding the bombs, referring to a conventional law. They never want to seek an explanation about impacts on coral reef destruction and/or to disclose the whole network.”
Spermonde is also acknowledged as the domain of potential fishery activities across Sulawesi-Nusa Tenggara-Bali (called the triangle of dynamic waters) and has been colored by conflicts and complex management issues. Social and environmental conditions in this area have been worsening. The complexity can be seen from the fierce competition between traditional fishermen against modern fishermen supported by big and rich fish traders, and sometimes by local authorities or prosecutors.