A Trip to the Tanjung Luar Fish Market in Lombok

“I don’t want to go to the Tanjung Luar Fish Market but I know we have to.”

Recently the Gili Shark Conservation team went on a trip to Tanjung Luar fish market in East Lombok. An experience we each (as the shark lovers that we are) dreaded but one we knew had to happen so we could have a clearer idea of the need to educate people and promote shark conservation in this region. We set off on our trip full of anxiety for what we might see at the market, each of us passing the same kind of comment “I don’t want to go but I know we have to.”

As we live on a different island (Gili Air) and the best time to be at the fish market is in the early morning, we needed to arrive one day before in Lombok and stay the night there. During this phase of the trip we all had time to unwind and it seemed like the road trip along the beautiful coast line and through the country side of rice fields and finding somewhere to stay for the night completely distracted our minds from what the following morning would hold.

An adventure in unknown territory

We are a small family like team, so it was very much like being on an adventure in unknown territory with your family, trying to navigate in regions with no signs and communicate with the lovely very friendly local people who spoke little to no English, luckily for us however we had our very valuable team member Dan with us who is originally from Lombok and who helped a lot during the whole expedition.

After we finally found somewhere comfortable to rest our heads for the night and set our alarm clocks for 4am it wasn’t long before we were in dream land, too tired to worry about what we would witness at the market in the morning and it seemed that as fast as we fell to sleep our alarms were waking us up again.

4.45 AM : watching the sunrise & waiting for the boats to come back

We were the only soles awake for miles, even the sun was still asleep when we began our journey to Tanjung Luar. Unlike the day before there was silence in the streets and in the car. We didn’t chatter and sing, we didn’t joke and laugh, each of us sat quietly dreading what we were about to witness at the market, hoping that it wouldn’t be as bad as we had seen before on documentaries filmed there, such as “A fish full of dollars”. We would soon find out our hopes were simply wishful thinking.

 

When we pulled up at the harbor at around 4:45am there were very few people around, only a few fisher men and their sons preparing their small boats to go to sea. We sat in silence waiting for the market to become alive. It was a beautiful scene, the sun rising over the volcano in the distance and women arriving group by group dressed in their beautiful traditional clothing with their empty baskets that would soon become full. We noticed the small lights on the horizon were coming closer; the fishing boats were returning from their hard nights’ work at sea. It was about to start and none of us were prepared for what we would whiteness next.

It was like watching a whole generation die

As the boats pulled into the shore the women were running in their dozens to fill their baskets first. It was like watching a race. For the first half an hour all the fish being brought on to land were small species which are fished sustainably and for a moment I felt positive and happy that no sharks or rays would make an appearance that morning. Then I noticed a bigger boat pulling in, no one ran to this boat and the crew on board were in no hurry to offload their catch. I noticed a giant white box on board and something told me its contents would be very different to what the other boats had brought so far.

Slowly the crew lifted off the lid of the box, four of them stood with their hands on their hips looking inside and clearly discussing how to remove it, it had to be something big. Finally, they began to empty the container. I felt sick to my stomach at what I was witnessing in front of my eyes. Shark after shark being trailed out and dumped on the beach. What made it worse was that most of the sharks were juveniles, as sharks take a long time to reach sexual maturity and generally produce very few young over their lifetimes, it was like watching a generation die.

Creating effective shark sanctuaries is a challenge

They dumped the carcasses of these magical creatures in the sand like they were worthless. People didn’t even acknowledge them; the women were still carrying on with their race to fill the baskets with small fish. No one seemed remotely interested in them, our team just sat there in shock, devastated at what we were seeing. It wasn’t long before another similar fishing boat arrived, again pulling off sharks and this time also rays.

We understand that fishing is an important source of income and protein to these communities and that it is essential for their economies survival. Creating effective shark sanctuaries is a challenge but it is something that we are working hard to achieve and once achieved it will require management, monitoring, funding and enforcement to be successful. In addition, commercial and artisanal fishers should be compensated or provided with alternate sources of income for shark sanctuaries to be successful.

About 3,17 sharks get killed per second

Dive tourism is leading to local and even national protection for sharks, but tourism-driven shark protection should always be backed up with better fisheries management and enforcement of regulations.

I spend my life loving these creatures who keep our planet alive, teaching people from far and wide the importance of these incredible species in maintaining the eco system and the health of our oceans and the World, raising awareness of their vulnerabilities and explaining why we must work together to protect their lives so that we in return can carry on surviving.

 

Sharks have survived for over 400 million years, they have survived where dinosaurs become extinct. They are an apex predator in their environment and therefore are vital in the food chain. Not many things threaten their kind; however due to poor education, misleading media promoting fear and neglect of these creatures and unsustainable demands for their fins in Asia and their meat in other regions of the world, humanity has taken actions that threaten sharks very existence, killing about 100 million sharks every year (about 3.17 per second), should this continue, we may see sharks becoming extinct in a few hundred years.

We will continue our quest and remain positive and hopeful

A major decrease in the shark population would trigger the extinction of many other smaller species and in turn would have a drastic effect on mankind.

This is my account of what our team witnessed in one early morning at Tanjung Luar but imagine that this happens every day of the year.

The problem is not that we are fishing for sharks; the problem is that in most cases we are overfishing sharks. If they are fished at a sustainable level they can continue to provide income and protein for many people.

We work every day in the hope for a brighter future not just for these incredible creatures but for the communities that today rely on them in an unsustainable way. We will continue our quest and remain positive and hopeful.