TEMPO SEMANAL TV
The fish caught by Oecusse man, Francisco Antone (the one in the picture holding his fist up, with a hat on backwards) and the crew of the "Ponder Yonder" (the boat in the picture, a 4.3m vessel, captained by Peter Cloutier) is known locally as a "serra" and is internationally known as "narrow barred spanish mackerel". Its scientific name is scomberomorus commerson, and is one of the top gamefish targeted by blue water anglers or fishermen that seek big fish in offshore waters. Fishermen fly to places like Cairns, Australia or Suva, Fiji to catch fish of this kind. Yet they are unlikely to catch one of this size as this fish can easily be labeled as a "fish of a lifetime". According to the International Gamefish Association (www.igfa.org), the world record "serra" - a massive 99 pound specimin, was caught in Natal, South Africa, in 1982. The fish caught by Francisco weighed in at 68 pounds some two hours after being caught with no ice or insulation to preserve water weight. Despite the 30 pound difference, Francisco's fish could easily be one of the largest Spanish Mackerels caught anywhere in the world this year.What's more, the fish was taken very close to Dili, and with somewhat modest tackle and boat. The boat, powered with a 2 stroke Yamaha 40 horsepower engine, was designed for estuarine fishing in Australia's Northern Territory, not big game fishing in the open ocean. Yet this is not the first time small boats in Timor Leste have captured unusually large pelagic fish. The same crew boated a Pacific Sailfish in mid-November that would have approached, in size, the fish that set the Australian record. The crew has caught mamoth dogtooth tuna, wahoo, barracuda and trevelly, all within a thirty minute boat ride from Dili's Palacio Governo. The Ponder Yonder also took first place in Timor Leste's First Annual International Sportfishing Competition which took place 27-29 November at Atauro Island with two large wahoo (124 and 134 cms respectively).
The techniques used by the Ponder Yonder crew are not terribly sophisticated. In fact, most of them could easily be used by Timorese outriggers to catch the same type of fish. The crew has reserved a portion of the tournament's cash prize to invest in developing an indigenous sportfishing association, that has members who not only have the technical knowledge to catch big fish but the entrepreneurial skills and customer service talent to make a living by bringing tourists fishing. With a healthy expatriate population in Dili and nearby tourist populations that value fishing-related holidays, such as Australia and New Zealand, opportunities already exist.
The key component in the equation is not tourism market or big fish potential. Those questions have already been answered through the number and catches exhibited in the International Competition. The key component is sustainability. For any industry to be competitive and long lasting, the resource must be conserved. Fortunately, the Government of Timor-Leste has taken great strides in working towards marine related conservation. With the help of the U.S. Government, Timor-Leste is one of six countries in the region that is participating in a multi-million dollar project named the "Coral Triangle Initiative". The Coral Triangle, which roughly encompasses the western points of Indonesia to the northern points of the Philippines to the western points of the Solomon Islands, is an area thought by some of the world's leading scientists to be the richest marine area on the planet. The program aims to help countries develop 'plans of action' to not only conserve precious natural resources but assist communities in developing ways to sustainably generate income and assure food security. The program could not be any more perfect for Timor Leste, as demonstrated byin 2009, when both income generation and food security were targeted as key components of the Government's National Priority matrix.
But Peter and the crew of the Ponder Yonder know that even though the opportunities for a 'fish of a lifetime' exist in Timor-Leste a lot of things will be needed to see a Timorese sportfishing industry evolve. Infrastructure, tourism promotion, and micro-finance are just a few of the items needed to truly enable a market to develop. Future Timorese skippers need not only training on current sportfishing techniques, but also on small business management, engine maintenance, and proper customer service. Most importantly, they need to understand the relationship between the marine environment and the fish they catch, and realize that they must conserve and protect these resources if they are going to continue to earn money and eat fish for future generations. Through the efforts of the Government through programs like the Coral Triangle Initiative, income generation and food security can be achieved, sustainably. And the 'fish of a lifetime' for tourists around the world lies just a short boat ride away from the airport.