Traditional fishing techniques in Alor

Alorese men and their fishing traps – does traditional means environmentally friendly?

Fish traps in Alor are one of the favorite subjects for UW photographers and divers often mention Alor is the only place where they have seen them…

As a men hunter evolved so did his fishing tools. And the purposes of his hunt… Today we have recreational fishers doing it for fun and challenge, the commercial ones for profit and the traditional ones most often for their food. Sometimes they all share same technique and sometimes those differ greatly.

There are still corners of the world where tradition exist as if suspended in time. In Indonesia many fishermen in remote coastal villages still use a traditional bamboo woven fish trap named “bubu”. Oftentimes its shape is cylindrical and its open end is narrowing inwards. The fish is attracted by a bate placed inside the “bubu” and is guided towards it through the elongated entrance. Once inside the fish is trapped since it hardly ever finds its way out to the freedom…

Bubu comes in various shapes and sizes, from rectangular and trapezoidal to half rounded or conical. Based on its use it can also be categorized into a ground, floating or a drifting bubu as well as a special type used in a tidal belt. Bamboo traps were initially used in rivers, lakes and swamps and eventually found its use in the sea as well.

In Alor Archipelago the fishermen use cylinder shape ground fish trap to catch small to middle size fishes. There are several dive sites in Pantar Strait where is almost guaranteed to see the fish trap serving its purpose underwater but the sight is often heartbreaking to the divers since the trapped fishes are often the colorful coral reef fish like a butterfly fish, damsel fish, anthias, trumpet fish and surgeon fish. But rest assured nothing goes to waste and everything is relative – what is an aquarium fish for one person might be an important source of protein for another one.

On islands Pura and Ternate a weaving of a fish trap is an artisanal craft and the knowledge has been passed down through generations of fathers and sons. Pura and Ternate are the two islands in Alor that rely heavily on the daily fish catch either for immediate consumption or for preserving the catch (salting and sun drying method) for months when the sea is too rough for fishing. It is also the main reason why they were forced to learn through their own mistakes what means sustainable and how to respect the marine environment.

The fish traps utilization demonstrates that traditional does not necessarily means sustainable. To use “bubu”, the trap has to be placed on the reef surface. In order to provide a stable base the area often has to be cleared of corals, which means the direct damage to the reef. Many fishermen understood by now the detrimental effect on the reef if they clear a new area each time they place the fish trap. Nowadays many of them will reuse the same cleared spot before relocating it. This gives a reef more time to recover the growth on the cleared area. Additionally many fishermen will place the trap on the naturally flat spot void of corals or they will simply place it closer to the shore on the sandy patches. “Bubu” is also relatively light and needs a ballast to keep it from floating. Less conscious fisherman will break off corals in order to obtain the weight but the conscious one will put effort in bringing some heavy stones from the shore to use as a weight. Another important manipulation is the way the traps are pulled to the surface. One end of the rope (natural rattan or the nylon one) is attached to the trap and the other end to the shore. The point is to not lose the “bubu” and to easily retrieve the trap for harvesting. The best way to resurface the trap would be to bring the canoe directly above it and then vertically lift it since dragging it up the slope could inflict a serious damage to the reef.

As many locals start to be educated on – or they experienced firsthand – the negative impact their fishing technique can have on the coral reef, the number of fishermen who are putting effort in protecting their food source is increasing. They understand the role of the healthy reef for sustaining the fish population in front of their villages and this gives us great hopes for continuous preservation of Alor’s marine environment.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Anders NybergErik Lukas - Winner of Alor Diver photo contest 2017