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Indonesia Busts Manta Ray Poachers

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 30, 2014

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Following on the good news of multiple arrests of elephant poachers in Mozambique, Indonesia is now cracking down on people who traffick illegally in manta ray parts.  It’s very encouraging to see this kind of enforcement from developing nations that have experienced some of the most dramatic wildlife losses ever.

Here’s the press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society:

NEW YORK (SEPTEMBER 30, 2014) – The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), Government of Indonesia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)’s Wildlife Crimes Unit announced today the first-ever series of enforcement actions against a trader of sharks and rays in Indonesia, home to the largest shark fisheries on earth.

Between August 22nd and September 26th, 2014, the team of officials, led by Pantja Waluyo Prasetyanto of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, arrested four traders of CITES-listed sharks and rays products, assisted by the WCS Wildlife Crimes Unit.

A fisheries police dicusses the difference between manta and mobula ray gills (Photo: Paul Hilton/WCS)

A fisheries police dicusses the difference between manta and mobula ray gills (Photo: Paul Hilton/WCS)

The first arrest took place on August 22nd in Surabaya, Indonesia, the nation’s second largest city, and involved a shipment of 50kg (110 pounds) of gill plates, of which 19.5kg (43 pounds) were from manta rays – two newly protected species under Indonesian law; and 13kgs (28 pounds) of marine turtle meat. The arrested trader, named Suep, is the owner of Sido Mampir Seafood.

Then on September 1st, in Bali, the Indonesian National Police’s Criminal Investigation Division, led by Police Adjunct Senior Commissioner Sugeng Irianto, arrested a trader Johan who was trafficking 53 snouts of the Critically Endangered sawfish ray.

The third arrest by the MMAF team, of a trader named Jnd, took place on September 9th in Sidoarjo near Surabaya. The team confiscated 558 kg (1,231 pounds) of manta ray bones, 4 kg (8.8 pounds) of sea turtle scales, manta gill plates and nautilus shells.

A final arrest occurred on September 26th at the Indramayu fisheries landing site in West Java, when a fisheries trader named Wrm was apprehended by MMAF trying to sell an entire

manta ray weighing 60kg (132 pounds). Under Indonesian law, trafficking manta rays and their parts and products is punishable by a maximum fine of USD $25,000; while for sawfish, sea turtles and nautilus, the penalty is a maximum 5 years’ imprisonment and maximum fine of USD $10,000.

Reef (Manta alfredi) and oceanic (Manta birostris) manta rays are large, long-lived, plankton-eating cartilaginous fishes, relatives of sharks. Oceanic mantas can reach up to 7 meters (23 feet) in length from wing-tip to wing-tip, weigh over 2 tons, and live for at least 20 years. They have very low reproductive rates, giving birth to only one live pup every two years.  A growing tourism trade based upon manta-watching is estimated to be worth $140 million annually, with Indonesia as one of the top-ten destinations.

Fisheries police sort manta ray gills during the arrest.

Fisheries police sort manta ray gills during the arrest.

Manta rays are increasingly targeted for their gill plates, the pre-branchial appendages that filter the plankton on which they feed.  These gill plates are in demand in Chinese markets for use in a health tonic that is not recognized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). One kilo of manta gill plates can fetch $250-$500 in China, and the total trade is worth $30 million annually. This growing trade is driving dramatic increases in largely unregulated manta fisheries that have depleted or are depleting manta populations. Both species are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN
Red List of Threatened Species
, the global threatened species list.

In February 2014, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), with technical input from a coalition of conservation organizations, including Conservation International (CI), the Manta Trust, and WCS, banned the hunting and trade of manta rays throughout the total area of the country (6 million square kilometers or 2.3 million square miles). This arrest is the first law enforcement actions under the new manta protection regulation.

“Illegal trading of protected species threatens the sustainability of marine and fisheries resources in Indonesia,” said the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Sharif C. Sutardjo, who congratulated the team. “We have succeeded to thwart the illegal trade of manta gill plates, which is was recently listed as a protected species by the Government of Indonesia” said Asep Burhanudin, the Director General of Marine and Fisheries Resources Surveillance of MMAF.

Manta and mobula rays lined up at the Tanjung Luar fish market, Lombok.

Manta and mobula rays lined up at the Tanjung Luar fish market, Lombok.

“This arrest is a major first step in new enforcement efforts to protect sharks and rays in Indonesia, which operates the largest known shark and ray fisheries on earth,” said Joe Walston, WCS Vice President for Field Conservation. “This arrest sends a clear message that Indonesia is serious about protecting its natural heritage against illegal wildlife traders.”

WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit (WCU) operates in Indonesia to provide data and technical advice to law enforcement agencies to support the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes. The WCU’s most recent success was assisting the Government of Indonesia’s smashing of a tiger poaching ring earlier this year. Information relating to the trade of manta rays in Indonesia was provided to the WCU by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN).

WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit is supported by the Save Our Species Fund. Save Our Species is a joint initiative of the Global Environment Facility, IUCN and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure the long-term survival and well being of threatened species and their critical habitats for biodiversity conservation. WCS’s marine conservation work in Indonesia has been made possible through the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. In addition, Conservation International provided financial support to WCS for this manta enforcement work, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation have also funded Conservation International’s policy work in Indonesia on sharks and rays.

WCS has prioritized saving sharks and rays as part of a global commitment to promote the recovery of depleted and threatened populations of marine species, halt the decline of fragile marine ecosystems, and improve the livelihoods and resilience of coastal communities throughout the world’s oceans.

WCS invests in a diverse array of long-term, seascape-scale conservation strategies across the waters of 20 countries and all five oceans to reverse the decline of marine ecosystems, restore populations of threatened marine species and improve coastal fisheries and livelihoods.

WCS inspires millions to take action for the oceans through the New York Aquarium and all WCS parks in New York City. To achieve long-term conservation goals, WCS marine conservationists work with local and national governments, as well as a range of local partners to improve management of coastal fisheries, mitigate key threats to marine species, expand effective marine protected areas, enhance ocean industry sustainability, and increase resilience to climate change.  Collectively, these efforts aim to build broader and deeper public understanding, advance scientific knowledge, and strengthen political commitment to our oceans and the biodiversity and livelihoods they support.

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