Meet the Dragon Fish in Kapuas Hulu river, West Kalimantan



Posted on 30 October 2011  |   |  en  |  id
By Iwan Setiawan dan Masayu Y. Vinanda


Jakarta (29/10)-Long time ago, Siluk or Arowana is used as salted fish that costs Rp.1000 per kilo. However, since people believe the fishy comes from heaven and can bring blessings, many hunt them, particularly the red ones. Even the buyers are willing to pay millons to get one of the fish.


Before they were hunted, , this flatthick scaly, big size fish with mustache and bearded on its lower lipswere not even preferred by the fishermen. This fish, which is known as Dragon Fish in Kalimantan and Heaven Fish in Riau, is considered as a ferocious fish. Not only eating smaller fish, it also eats its own fry (baby fish) and frogs. However, after there myth on how Arowana fish would bring luck and peace to its owner emerged, this fish became more popular. Many fishermen started to catch them, with financial support from the receptacles. A 40cm-length Arowanais can be valued until 2.5 Million Rupiahs.


In wild life, Red Arowana Fish is the inhabitant of Kapuas River in West Kalimantan. In their natural habitat, Arowana’s population is highly decreasing because of the wild poachers and low reproductive rates. That’s why Arowana is being classified under the red list of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means it is regarded in critical level. By means, Arowana is one of the very rare and critically-endangered animal.


This condition is confirmed by the testimony of Juniardi, the Chief of Empangau Village, Bunut Hilir Subdistrict, Kapuas Hulu Regency, West Kalimantan. He stated that in the past 30 years, we almost never be able to find Arowana in natural habitat, only one individual found in 2009 in Semalah Village.


Arowana hunting is like a “double-edged knife.” Arowana can provide better livelihood for the local people, on the other hand, it also contributes to the decrease population of Arowanain the wild. In order to sustain the local livelihood as well as protect the Arowana, the local community in Merebung Lake has agreed to protect the fish under their local regulation. Merebung Lake is one of the 7 lakes in Meliau Village, Kapuas Hulu Regency which is protected by the indigenous peoples.


One of the customary rules regarding arowana protection is the establishment of economic zone and “no fishing” zone which limitpeople to catch Arowana. They also strictly regulate minimum size of captured fish. With high awareness, they implement their customary rules, control, and give punishment for those who violate the rules.


Protection efforts, conducted by the local community all this time, finally come into fruition. Slowly but surely, the population of this rare fish in the nature is increasing. This is proven by the discovery of Arowana mother in Merabung Lake which was accidently captured by an American professional angler . The size is amazing, the length is 140 cm and it weighs almost 6 kg. After being captured, the fish was released from the hook and released to Merebung Lake by one of Meliau Villagers who accompanied Robert Clarke, the lucky angler.


“Traditionally, Merabung Lake and 6 other lakes in Meliau Village are protected by the local community. But with this discovery, we should encourage and suggest to Department of Marine and Fisheries so that lakes in Meliau can obtain a legal protection under Protection Law from the local government,” said Albertus Tjiu, WWF Kapuas Hulu Project Leader. For almost 15 years, WWF-Indonesia have conducted various community empowerment activities in Kapuas Hulu. Arowana protection efforts in Meliau Village is also one of WWF work priorities in Kapuas Hulu. WWF started an initiative of Arowana’s protection in 1997, which, at that time, was focusedin Empangau Lake, Meliau Village.


Since long time ago, Empangau Lake has been Arowana’s natural habitat, but the charismatic fish was almost extinct during 1995-1996 because of the great numbers of huntings. Through fish restocking, improvement on fishermen organisation, establishment of protected lake zone, collective aggrement on customary rules, and control by the local community, this community empowerment work finally showed its positive impact on Arowana’s sustainability.


Since 2000, Arowana protection effort through restocking released 23 broodstock Arowana in Empangau Lake, which already produced 192 adult fish worth 840 Million rupiahs. Before being released as adult fish, the fry is maintained for 2 years until it reaches 5 – 10 cm in length. The fish released in Empangau Lake comes from community, local government support, and NGO such as WWF-Indonesia. Nevertheless, these protection efforts are far from enough, considering the fact that the circulation and the trading of natural Arowana fish are not yet regulated in Law No. 5 year 1990 on Conservation of Natural Resources and its Ecosystem. Moreover, the rampant land conversion for palm plantations would impact the Lake and its surroundings. If we are not aware with all of these conditions, the species and ecosystem conservation works we have done all this time would just be a waste.

© Doc. Robert Clarke Enlarge
© Doc. Robert Clarke Enlarge

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