Saturday, July 30, 2005

Moral Dilemma

over enforcement rights of volunteers.

What am I talking about? Let me give a few examples.

1.) On a walk, a number of traps were found on Chek Jawa. Crab traps. These were systematically destroyed by the volunteers that happened to be there, and the location of the traps was given to NParks to deal with. I suppose problem solved.

While the crab pots that were destroyed were probably cheap, the nets that we find from time to time represent a substantial investment on the part of the fisherman. It would have cost him money to purchase the material, and then time to fashion his nets. Do we have the right to take food away from his family's table?

2.) One night, an NParks officer was given a call in the middle of the night and rushed down to Pulau Ubin to stop a number of people from removing seahorses from the island. These people were let off with a verbal warning.

3.) A number of visitors, after just ONE visit to Chek Jawa, and maybe having read the guidebook, think that they are experts, and begin bringing in their own groups of people, without registering with the system, or with NParks.

When the boardwalk on Chek Jawa is completed, I predict that people would love to use it for fishing as well. Are we going to stop them from doing that? Do we have the right?

I do not know what solutions will come up to solve the above problems, but the fact remains that Chek Jawa has not been gazetted as a Nature Park or Reserve Area. NParks' responsibility to the area is purely due to the efforts of a number of individuals who protested the reclamation of the place in 2001. In 2011, this responsibility could very well come to an end. I'm not being pessimistic, just realistic. There is a difference.

4.) During a walk, at Labrador park, a trap was seen being laid, and a member of the public was seen on the jetty, walking away from the string that was attached to said trap. Volunteers who happened to be on the shore immediately cut down the offending trap, destroyed and disposed of it.

For this, I'm not sure if the volunteers did the right thing. I'm almost convinced they did not. I would have been happier if NParks rangers had been called in to watch the trap, if only to see who collected it and haul him away to the lockup. Also, the NParks website is not very clear on where on the Labrador jetty the fishing area starts. All we know is that there is a limit from the start of the jetty from which no traps can be placed, and no fishing allowed.

What is the definition of a POACHER? I am tired of labelling everybody we meet on Chek Jawa and any other shore with a fishing pole and a net a poacher. Some of these people are legitimate fishermen. Some of these people are hobbyists who want to catch fish, and maybe bring them home to eat. Does that make them poachers?

The definition of a poacher, from
One who hunts or fishes illegally on the property of another.

On encountering something obviously illegal, such as the Labrador crab trap, what is the volunteer to do? If the answer is to cut down the trap, what about getting the person who laid that trap? If we get that person? What's to stop a group of vindictive volunteers from hanging him by his own rope from the jetty?

What happened in Labrador makes me very uncomfortable, as it smacks of vigilante justice. Which is WRONG. We have enforcement agencies for a reason. In the event of a robbery or a muder, Police are called in. In the event of a foreign invasion, the Army is responsible. In the event of poaching, I'd like to think that NParks is worth being given a call.

What is the responsibility of a volunteer when a poacher is seen on our watch? I believe that it is our responsibility to educate said poacher, and try to convince him to release the creatures back into the wild. Having failed that, I believe it is our responsibility to call the relevant agency and try to detain the poacher until NParks Officers or Rangers arrive.

I have seen a family of poachers try to defend their catch before in a styrofoam box. Their reaction to being confronted by volunteers on a training walk was not pleasant. After all, we're not in any sort of uniform, nor do we carry any form of badge or pass. No, a cap does NOT count. A Ranger or an Officer, in uniform, even the casual set, would have probably scared the poachers into putting the animals back.

So. What is the responsibility of a volunteer? To escalate conflict with people trying to practise their own hobby? I feel that the shores do not belong solely to us guides.

I know that there are individuals in the volunteer corp at the moment who hold the opinion that nothing on the shore is to be taken away. I know that some of these individuals will think that escalation of conflict is acceptable.

Let me know again when some of these poachers pulls a knife on you as he tries to get away.


Blogger Cynische said...

Well stated, well put and relevent. It's nice to see conservationism mixed with common sense and ethics.

Keep it up.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some thoughts.

Agree with Tom. Conservation can only be discussed after food's been put on the dining table. The banner waving greenies can admonish the farmer for killing a leopard, but when he puts down his banner, he retires to fine dining and a warm couch while the farmer salvages the carcass of his livestock and calculates his loss.

fortuunately in Singapore, there are not many subsistence fishermen here. I 'd agree with Tom that it be a wrong to be breaking ricebowls along with the pots. The village fishing community is aware that CJ's off limits. And the villagers want CJ to succeed, cos of the economic benefits it'll bring.

the idea of guiding is to build a groundswell of positive sentiment about CJ and the rest of our shores. When the respite is over, we will hopefully have done enough for Singaporeans to choose correctly. I'm not a realist, but a pessimist actually. And if I can enough to believe this, there's more than a chance in hell it might.

Wellington Hungaphilo

5:33 PM  
Blogger November said...

i think in all areas in the world, such issues are very pertinent and never easily resolved. Especially in Singapore where there aren't proper coastal management plans, zoning, policies and legislation.

U're right about the lack of proper signs and demarcation for the areas where fishing is allowed.

In seattle, the signs are so "hardcore" that they put it on the clift so that people passing by in the water (on kayaks or boats or whatnot) can see, as well as signs on land for people to see that it's a NO TAKE / no fishing zone.

But then again, Singapore doesn't have a marine reserve or well planned out zones along the coast for different purpose - recreation, fishing, resorts/tourism or conservation. People think its free for all and there's nothing to show them that it's any different.

of course I hope that things are conserved but then we cannot conserve EVERYTHING. It's a catch 22 because if people are barred from the coast, they will cease to support it and we would not be able to conserve anything.

i think chek jawa's lost is still fresh on our mind. Fishing there before it's rise to fame would have not affected its sustainability 10 years ago because there wouldn't be a mad rush to the place. Being well known has its pros and cons. Hopefully when the boardwalk is up, things would play itself out and maybe then would we be able to know if there would be a crowd to deal with.

ack sorry for the long essay ;)

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has this dilemma been resolved yet?

No, I do not think destroying and discarding traps are such a good idea. It is probably better to collect evidence of their use, like a private investigator. Maybe you can also track when and where these traps are placed, and who placed them, in case, one day you are called to become an expert witness.

11:42 AM  

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