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In Indonesia, one of the most threatened populations of Irrawaddy dolphins in Asia exists in the Mahakam river. In order to protect the species, Indonesia’s fisheries ministry is working together with a non-profit organization to roll out a ban on unsustainable fishing gear in a key stretch of river.
The Mahakam river was declared a conservation area by the fisheries ministry in August 2022. Due to this new decision shipping traffic will be severely limited in the stretch of water. However, fishing will be allowed to some degree. The ministry is working together with conservationists to come up with a management plan which will prohibit destructive and unsustainable fishing that have been called out as being a threat to the dolphins and other species as well. Sustainable fishing will be allowed.
“It is important for the management plan to get finalized in the next few months, as quickly as possible, and I think this is a huge step,” said Danielle Kreb, scientific program manager for the Conservation Foundation for Rare Aquatic Species of Indonesia (YK-RASI), the NGO working with the fisheries ministry to Mongabay.
Kreb explained that fishing with a type of gill net known as rengge will be banned together with practices like for example electrofishing, poison fishing and monopolizing fisheries where the entire cross-section of the river is rigged with a net so no other fish or animal can pass through.
Just 80 individuals of the dolphin species are estimated to live in the Mahakam river. According to YK-RASI the species is critically endangered and 90% of the dolphins inhabit the new conservation area. Simultaneously, fishers from 27 villages depend on the area as a key source of livelihood.
Kreb said that the fishers support the establishment of the conservation area and the proposed ban on the destructive gear. They will, however, need assistance to switch to more sustainable fishing devices like for example traps, cages and longlines.
“What we have found after discussions with fishing groups is that they want to continue fisheries but they also want to get rid of unsustainable fishing, like monopolizing gear, the ones that are illegal like electrofishing, poison fishing, gill nets, because they care about the dolphins as well,” Kreb said.
“It’s like they give and take, and it’s a good example of how many people can collaborate for a common purpose, which is to sustain the natural resources in the area by not depleting the fish resources,” she added.
“The whole idea behind the area is not only for the conservation of dolphins but also we want to achieve an ecosystem where the communities can thrive inside the conservation area as well,” Kreb said.
Picture: Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries via Mongabay