Indonesia's reef fish industry struggles to stay afloat

Workers at the Pulau Mas fish cages near Labuan Bajo, Flores, in eastern Indonesia. Decades of overfishing using cyanide and dynamite have decimated habitats of reef fish. The lesser-known live reef fish industry has not seen the broad recovery in In
Workers at the Pulau Mas fish cages near Labuan Bajo, Flores, in eastern Indonesia. Decades of overfishing using cyanide and dynamite have decimated habitats of reef fish. The lesser-known live reef fish industry has not seen the broad recovery in Indonesia's fisheries, putting the livelihoods of the poorest of the 2.5 million Indonesian fishermen at stake.ST PHOTO: JEFFREY HUTTON
Workers at the Pulau Mas fish cages near Labuan Bajo, Flores, in eastern Indonesia. Decades of overfishing using cyanide and dynamite have decimated habitats of reef fish. The lesser-known live reef fish industry has not seen the broad recovery in In
Mr Fada'AST PHOTO: JEFFREY HUTTON
Workers at the Pulau Mas fish cages near Labuan Bajo, Flores, in eastern Indonesia. Decades of overfishing using cyanide and dynamite have decimated habitats of reef fish. The lesser-known live reef fish industry has not seen the broad recovery in In
Mr MunirST PHOTO: JEFFREY HUTTON

At the Pulau Mas fish cages, about a 45-minute boat ride from Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia, modest wooden fishing boats about 12m in length pull up. One by one, they disgorge their sleep-deprived crew. Bleary-eyed and looking much older than their years after three nights at sea, they each proffer live bounty to be weighed, sold and stowed for a long trip, likely to a table in Hong Kong.

But while it is the peak of the fishing season, few boats land - just four over six hours. Those that do land have few fish. Only two of the six holding pens on this bobbing weigh station are in use - the temporary home of about 100 brilliant and meaty specimens struggling for cover when they are hauled to the surface for closer inspection.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesia's reef fish industry struggles to stay afloat'. Print Edition | Subscribe