December 15, 2011 was the patrol team’s lucky day – for the illegal fishers, not so lucky.

Representatives from the department of forestry, department of fishery, local patrol team and police force had convened to revise standard operating procedures for patrolling the waters of Dampier Strait – an area between the famous reefs of Bird’s Head Seascape and Raja Ampat in Indonesia. In the middle of their training a local fisher spotted an unfamiliar boat. Rare Conservation Fellow Rosita “Mona” Tariola and her Conservation International (CI) colleagues facilitated the session and decided to divert from the lesson plan to actually implement the procedures and check out the boat that had entered the wrong waters at the wrong time.

They first found shark fins on the upper level of the boat. Upon further inspection, they uncovered a ton of fins and dead sharks including white tip and hammerhead sharks. In 2010 the district banned shark finning, so there is no precedent for a seizure of this size and the specifics of potential penalties have yet to be established.

“The involvement of the police and other agencies is encouraging,” says Eleanor Carter, director of Rare’s marine program in Indonesia. “It shows that the level of understanding, and support of these issues, has improved.” Tariola and her colleagues at CI have worked very hard to establish a patrolling and training system. Last year she and CI partnered with Rare to launch a campaign to build community support for the maintenance of sustainable marine reserves, as well as the creation and enforcement of areas where fishing is prohibited. Since then relations between community authorities have improved. “Before the campaign, the patrolling team didn’t have good coordination with the local police,” says Rare program manager Yayat Afianto. “The new patrolling system is not exclusive to one group. I think that is really good.”

The local paper covered the incident linking the ecological significance of sharks to the economic health of tourism and fisheries in the area. They also noted shark-fishing bans in other regions around the world from Palau to California showing a broad understanding of the issue and its global significance.

“When we explained the role of sharks to the ecosystem and tourism in Raja Ampat, the community got very angry and furious about the illegal fishing,” says Tariola. “Support for the community patrol team who caught the boat is now much higher and the community is more committed to reducing illegal shark finning in Dampier.”

     90% of the 50 million fishers in the world are near-shore fishers