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"Sharks are important, but so is rice": Opportunities and challenges for shark fisheries management and livelihoods in eastern Indonesia

Jaiteh, Vanessa (2017) "Sharks are important, but so is rice": Opportunities and challenges for shark fisheries management and livelihoods in eastern Indonesia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Targeted fisheries for shark fin are one of the main causes driving the unprecedented decline of shark populations. Despite widespread concern for sharks and calls for their conservation, a lack of data often delays regulatory action for shark fisheries. For over two decades, Indonesia has reported higher average shark landings than any other nation, but information on its shark fisheries is extremely limited. The eastern Indonesian shark fishery, here defined to extend from East Nusa Tenggara to Papua, is virtually data-less and beyond the focus of central fisheries agencies. The lack of essential information, including the location of fishing grounds, catch composition and fishing effort, as well as biological and socio-economic characteristics of harvested species and the livelihoods they support, impedes the development of effective fisheries management in this region. This thesis uses a transdisciplinary approach to address these knowledge gaps.

My findings are based on extensive field studies in three remote coastal communities with fishing grounds in the Seram, Halmahera, Aru-Arafura and Timor Seas. During my stay in each community, I involved fishers in collecting and interpreting fishery data, studied local fishing practices and patron-fisher relationships, and conducted in-depth interviews with fishers, shark fin bosses and other community members. This allowed me to portray the fishery from biological, economic and sociological perspectives (Chapter 2), and to investigate the reliability and accuracy of fisher data. The description of a range extension for the vulnerable fossil shark Hemipristis elongata demonstrates that fisher’s species identifications are not only reliable, but can lead to serendipitous findings on species occurrences (Chapter 3).

Expanding on the application of fisher data, I then use diverse data sources to provide the first sustainability assessment of the eastern Indonesian shark fishery (Chapter 4). The fishery targets over 40 species, many of which exhibit declining catch rates over the last two decades and are unable to sustain continued fishing pressure due to their low rebound potential and high fishing mortality. Finding that the fishery is most likely unsustainable, I move on to combine fishery and interview data from my case study sites with fishery-independent methods to examine key factors for successful shark conservation in one of the first studies to investigate the effectiveness of explicitly shark-specific spatial closures and their impact on shark fishers (Chapter viii 5). The results of this study clearly show that effective governance of spatial closures can result in higher abundances of sharks by allowing them to recover, and providing a refuge, from heavy fishing pressure. However, it also becomes evident that exclusion from fishing grounds can have profound effects on fishers’ behaviour, evidenced by a shift of fishing effort to unprotected, less productive areas and the pursuit of alternative livelihoods, including, in some cases, illegal activities. The theme of livelihood diversification and alternatives is explored further in Chapter 6, where I deconstruct a series of recent developments that have cumulatively reduced the appeal and stability of shark fishing, a once prosperous livelihood. These developments involve multiple levels of governance from local to regional, bilateral and international scales, and include declining catches in all fishing grounds, a reduction in the demand for, and trade of shark fin, the loss of access to fishing grounds, transboundary fishing, restrictive debt with shark fin bosses, and limited options for livelihood alternatives. Indebted fishers find themselves trapped in an increasingly unprofitable livelihood but are unable to leave the fishery even when willing to do so, due to financial, technical or other constraints. Nevertheless, examples of livelihood diversification are evident in all case study communities, with varying success and without the impetus or support of outside fisheries management or community development interventions.

In Chapter 7, I contend that the eastern Indonesian shark fishery is characterised by levels of uncertainty and complexity that conventional methods of fisheries assessment and management were not designed to deal with. Instead, data-poor fisheries management based on precautionary principles, and actively involving fishers in knowledge generation, are needed to mitigate against continued fishery-driven declines of shark populations. The thesis concludes with twelve recommendations for proactive management, based on challenges and opportunities identified during my research. I propose that the most promising strategy for protecting shark populations in eastern Indonesia is a composite, data-poor management approach that features a combination of spatial protection, consistent implementation and enforcement of trade regulations, researchbased fisheries regulations, and support for fishers’ livelihood diversification.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor: Loneragan, Neil and Warren, Carol
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