As part of GNA’s commitment to find solutions to the ghost net issue, GNA coordinator Riki Gunn and Tonny Wagey from the Arafura Timor Seas Ecosystem Action (ATSEA) program facilitated four workshops in 2012-13 with fishermen in the ports of Ambon, Dobo and Benjina in Maluku Province and Merauke in Papua Province of Indonesia.
The workshops were well attended by fishermen (trawl, gill and purse seine), representatives from fishing companies, fish trawl associations, various levels of government and researchers including fishing gear experts from the local Universities and Polytechnic Colleges. There were also representatives from the local media as these were important events for the local communities.
Through presentations and discussions, the workshop attendees explained how the 18 different Indonesian fisheries (totalling 922 registered vessels) are distributed and managed in the Arafura Sea. These vessels only include those greater than 30 gross ton which target species like prawns or shrimp, tropical snappers and pelagic fish such as mackerels and shark. They do not include the smaller family and subsistence fishing fleets which is mostly an unknown quantity.
The presentations made for some lively discussions, including concern that Australia thinks most of the nets are Indonesian. The general consensus from looking at net samples and photos that Riki provided was that most ghost nets, especially fish trawl nets, in the Arafura Sea come from illegal fishing activities by Thailand, South Korea and China.
More importantly, we found that ghost nets were caused more by operational events rather than the traditional belief that it is due to poor behaviour of the fishermen. The main two reasons cited for the incidence of ghost nets were gear conflicts and snagging nets on the obstructions due to being forced into unchartered waters. Resolving the illegal fishing then would appear to be a first step in reducing ghost nets.