04 April 2014

The Battle Between our Taste Buds and Bajau Fishermen

Kenneth Chan writes:*

There is always a strong passion in terms of seafood in Southeast Asia; however, the constantly rising demand in high end and expensive seafood such as Groupers in Asia has brought a threat to the world last sea nomads—the Bajau people.

For centuries, Bajau people are displaced along the waters and seas between the Philippines, Malaysia and India. They have a long tradition living on homemade wooden boats. The life of Bajau people is harsh but simple, they earn their living by fishing, pearling and catching sea cucumbers; and they will only return to land after several months in sea. In the past, they use very modest tools for diving—goggles are handmade with wood and glass, and harpoon are made from scrap materials from old ships. Nonetheless, the significant increase in the demand for seafood in Southeast Asia, the Bajau then become one of the major sources of the supply.

According to WWF research data, fisheries exports had brought up to USD$800 million a year of revenue to the Bajau people, but these figures did not bring prosperity to the Bajau people. Conversely, accidents occur continuously due to improper uses on homemade bomb for fishing; and in some serious cases, both hands of a fisherman have been blown off due of the improper use of firearm for fishing. On one hand, many Bajau fishermen have suffered from decompression sickness due to improper usage of oxygen tank to dive, and there are reports in death occasionally. On the other hand, the use of homemade bombs and cyanide have caused an environmental disaster to the nearby coral reeds and marine environment, some coral fish such as the napoleon wrasse had been listed as an endangered species.

Bottom Line: It is without a doubt that the ultimate victims in terms of reduction in fishery is the Bajau people, but the Bajau fishermen is just fulfilling our taste buds. While we are enjoying these seafood, the world’s only remaining sea nomads may have to disappear. With people have to suffer on the other side of the world, do we really ease to eat those fish?

* These guest posts are from students in my resource economics class at Simon Fraser University. Please leave feedback on their logic, ideas and style and suggestions of how to improve.

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