Tue, 26 Sep 2000

Fish breeding at Cirata Dam: Between hope and reality

By Yuli Tri Winarni

CIRATA, West Java (JP): From the day water first began to collect behind the Cirata dam in 1986, the locals hoped that after the 6,000-hectare reservoir was filled, they could breed fish as a livelihood.

The West Java administration and the state electricity company (PLN), which manages the reservoir, agreed to give locals, whose land had been appropriated, a chance to breed fish under the floating net "keramba" system.

Cirata reservoir dam, some 60 km southwest of Bandung at the common border of Purwokerto, Bandung and Cianjur regencies, was built as part of PLN's Java-Bali Project. Its main purpose is to power the turbines.

Chief of the West Java provincial fishery office, Muhamad Husen, said that in 1986 there were only 700 keramba mostly owned by the locals living nearby.

The number has surged over the last few years. In 1996, for example, there were over 15,200 units owned by some 2,400 breeders. Then in late 1997, when Indonesia began to feel the grip of the economic crisis, the number skyrocketed to over 25,000 units.

Breeding fish with keramba is a business that requires significant capital to start and has attracted businessmen from other cities. Over time, many locals have left the business because they did not have enough capital.

"You see the profit may be twice the amount of the investment. But to breed fish under the keramba system, you must have some Rp 8 million. Locals do not have that much," Husen said.

Previously, almost all keramba were owned by locals, but now locals make up only 25 percent of the 2,500 owners.

However, one of the operations officials at Cirata Dam, Edi, said that locals control only about 10 percent of the 28,000 keramba units with wealthier businessmen from Jakarta, Lampung and even Sulawesi controlling 90 percent.

Idih, 31, and hundreds of local residents willingly gave up their land to make way for the reservoir. Now, they must be content as boatmen, bicycle-taxi drivers and food vendors around the dam.

"My house used to be here but now it is gone," said Idih, stopping his rowing to point at the surface of the water.

"We moved into the forest over there," the father of three commented without rancor, indicating a green hilly area near Maleber pier where more boats were waiting for passengers.

Polluted water

While the fish breeding business in Cirata reservoir has created jobs and income, it has also adversely affected the quality of the water.

In late 1995, breeders were surprised when currents stirred up sediments from the bottom of the reservoir causing hundreds of tons of fish to die.

West Java fishery service noted there had been at least four similar incidents, including a major one in 1996.

Research conducted by the Agency for Development and Assessment of Technology (BPPT) in late 1999 showed that uneaten fish food had contaminated the water.

Uneaten fish food settles to the bottom of the reservoir and stimulates rapid plankton growth.

In 1999, some 240,000 tons of food was used to feed fish in 27,000 keramba.

The research showed that uneaten food contributed some 190,000 tons of waste with 8,500 tons of phosphorous and over 1,200 tons of nitrogen.

To make things worse, those tending the keramba live in floating houses on the reservoir. They use the water for all purposes -- worsening the pollution.

The worsening pollution has begun to alarm local government officials. Not only do the pollutants poison aquatic life but they also shorten the life of the turbine and other machinery.

Another worry is that the water from Cirata reservoir may spill to Jatiluhur reservoir downstream, the main source of piped drinking water for Greater Jakarta.

"Some of the contaminated water discharged to Citarum river may arrive at Jatiluhur through natural movement," said Husen.

A few months ago, environmentalists were shocked to discover poisonous algae Mikrocytis had killed some 800 tons of fish worth several hundred million rupiah.

"This is yet to take into account loses sustained by PLN because pollutants may also reduce the life of their turbines," Husen added.

Managing pollution

Pollution levels at Cirata reservoir would have been less if the reservoir management had limited the number of keramba.

In fact, West Java Governor R. Nuriana, decreed in late 1999 that the number of keramba in Cirata must be limited to only 1,200 units. In reality, the decree has gone unheeded.

Data compiled by the fishery service show that over 60 percent of keramba in Cirata are illegal. They are not covered by licenses.

"Who is in charge of enforcing the law anyway? All parties, the regional administration and PLN, get money from the fish business," said Edi, adding that they got Rp 1,500 a year for each square meter of keramba.

"Apart from limiting the number of keramba, attention must also be paid to the fish food. According to Husen, none of the 23 trademarks of fish food now used by breeders in Cirata has been recognized. Since the economic crisis began in 1997, the quality of fish food has been declining.

Another breeder, who declined to be named, called on feed producers to share the farmers' concerns over the pollution in Cirata reservoir by producing good quality feed. He said quality feed would reduce the amount that fish need to grow.

To reduce the number of plankton in Cirata, the fishery service launched earlier this month a carp breeding program.

However, Husen is not optimistic that the carp, which lives on plankton, will be bred in sufficient numbers. The problem is that buyers do not usually like this fish because it has a lot of bones.