Sat, 15 May 2004

Fish-loving Jakartan residents unfazed by pollution warning

Urip Hudiono and Evi Mariani, Jakarta

Despite the recent warning against consuming fish caught in Jakarta Bay, the management of the Maura Angke fish market in North Jakarta, and several seafood restaurants, claimed it was business as usual.

However, they urged the Jakarta administration to clarify the matter, fearing public misinformation on fish consumption would hurt their businesses.

Head of the Muara Angke fish market, Riyadi, said on Friday the market had strictly monitored sales since the warning was issued. The market -- which is also a fishing port -- trades some 150 tons of fish, squid and prawns per day via auction.

"Fishermen here usually fish in the Java Sea, the Karimata strait between Sumatra and Kalimantan, and even as far as the seas of eastern Indonesia," Riyadi said.

However, he admitted one percent of the market's total sales comprised fish caught in Jakarta Bay, which was dried and salted, and not sold directly to customers.

Both the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD) and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries suggested that Jakartans not consume any fish or clams caught in Jakarta Bay, following the discovery of dead fish on the beaches of Ancol, Kamal Muara and the Thousand Islands since May 7.

The BPLHD suspects pollution caused the fish to die, but is yet to determine whether the origin off the pollution was toxic waste from industrial plants, or due to the red-tide phenomenon -- an extreme proliferation of toxic algae that absorbs a large amount of oxygen.

The agency expects the investigation will be completed in two weeks.

North Jakarta Mayor Effendy Anas, meanwhile, suggested on Thursday the dead fish and clams were dumped by fishermen after they caught better fish, an explanation which fishermen said was illogical.

"Fishermen would never throw away fish. Even rejected fish can be sold for cow or poultry feed," said Cholik, head of auctions at the fish market.

Meanwhile, operational manager of the Mina Pejompongan seafood restaurant Joan, said, although there had not been a decline in sales yet, she feared the warnings could deter customers.

The restaurant has temporarily halted the supply of clams and sea water from Jakarta Bay for its live fish, she said.

Sunarja "Johan" Lasmana, the manager of the Bandar Jakarta seafood restaurant in Ancol, North Jakarta, said customers had questioned him on the warnings.

"We just happen to be located in Ancol, but the fish we sell are supplied by Muara Angke," Johan said.

Also on Thursday, Jakarta Police chief Insp. Makbul Padmanagara said they were investigating the case together with the BPLHD.

Detective chief of the special crimes unit, Sr. Comr. Edmon Ilyas said samples of sea water taken on May 10 and May 11 had been submitted to the National Police's forensics laboratory.

He added the police had questioned six witnesses, four were employees of Ancol Dreamland Park's cleaning department and two, locals living around the bay.


Tips on selecting fish and other seafood:

1. Check the flesh of the fish by gently pressing it. Make sure it is firm. 2. Check that the color of the gills are bright red. 3. Check the eyes are clear. 4. For scaled fish, make sure the scales are intact. 5. For prawns, make sure there are no black spots on the flesh and that the head is not greenish or reddish in color. 6. For squid, make sure the skin is intact, the flesh is firm and not reddish in color. 7. Green oysters are considered fresh when their shells are firmly shut, while cockle shells, on the other hand, are still fresh when their shells gape a bit. All oysters, however, are known to accumulate health-affecting heavy metals.