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Blast fishing ring busted in Indonesia

Two fishermen carry "hookah" compressor hoses used in blast fishing, evidence that will be used against them in court  

After a dramatic boat chase late Sunday through the reef-studded waters of Indonesia's Komodo National Park, police and park rangers arrested 24 fishermen caught in the act of bombing coral reefs in the area.

The fish bombing bust marks the first arrest this year in the Komodo area, one of the few regions of Indonesia where fish bombing is monitored with any regularity.

Fish bombing, or "blast fishing," is a common, though illegal, practice in Indonesia, a nation of 17,000 islands surrounded by coral reefs. Many marine experts consider bombing the greatest threat to the archipleago's reefs, home to 25 percent of the world's fish species.

Despite the ban on blast fishing, such arrests are rare in Indonesia. Even where laws against such destructive fishing practices are enforced, fish bombers can quickly throw their bombs and other evidence overboard when they see police approach.

Authorities arrested the 24 fishermen, including 11 teen-age boys, near Siaba Island in the northeastern part of the national park. Police also confiscated three dilapidated wooden boats.

A fourth boatload of fishermen escaped, according to Romi Akbar of the Indonesian Forestry Police who commands the "floating ranger station" patrol. Akbar said patrollers first heard a bomb explode near Siaba Island, then saw a second bomb send a plume of foam skyward, at which point they gave chase.

After firing a series of shots into the air, the police finally detained the fishermen shortly before dusk Sunday.

The arrested fishermen hail from Papagaran, a small village inside park boundaries, and Misa and Bajo Barat, two villages near Komodo.

Bombs away: Blast fishing evidence found in fishing boats included several plastic bottles filled with fertilizer and kerosene  

Monday morning, a truck delivered 10 of the suspects from police headquarters in the port town of Labuanbajo to the dock where the seized boats lay. The fishermen were publicly shamed as a crowd of locals and idle law enforcement officials looked on.

Stripped to the waist to identify them as prisoners, the fishermen were forced to walk on their haunches, hands behind their heads, while repeating the words "Saya melakukan bom," or "I use bombs." They then hauled evidence from their boats to the truck: three "hookah" air compressors used by the divers who gather dead fish in the wake of each explosion and thousands of limp, broken-boned fish.

Police then escorted the suspects back to the police station, where they remain in custody.

Komodo National Park has better enforcement than most marine parks after its reef patrol program took effect in 1996. Dive operators working in the area and the Nature Conservancy's Indonesia Programme contributed funds to buy a boat to bolster park patrols against fish bombing, cyanide squirting and other destructive fishing practices.

The Nature Conservancy estimates that the patrols - a joint effort between park rangers, police and the Indonesian army - have reduced fish bombing in the park by 80 percent. The conservancy and other non-governmental organizations are also working to provide economic alternatives to destructive fishing in the vicinity of the park.

Famous for its dragons, Komodo is also the site of some of Indonesia's - and the world's - richest marine habitat. The park alone is home to nearly 1,000 species of fish as well as 250 species of reef-building corals.

Copyright 2000, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

Blast fishing competes with reef conference
October 30, 2000
Salmon battered by man and nature
October 27, 2000
River ladder aids salmon's uphill battle
October 27, 2000
Conservationists fight to corral 'shark rodeos'
September 6, 2000

Blast fishing competes with reef conference
Coral reefs will be gone in 20 years, scientists say
Coral reef species forced to go with the flow
Deep-sea corals: out of sight but in harm's way
The Worldwatch Report: Coral death -- Disaster in the making

Komodo National Park
Nature Conservancy's Indonesia Programme
Terrible Tackle
Coral Reef Alliance

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