Olora: Boats

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nurul Huda’s father was a fisherman, and the 46-year old resident of Olora, a village on the Indonesian island of Nias, has been a fisherman all his life. But it’s getting more difficult to make a living from the sea, so Huda isn’t sure what his teenage son will do when he grows up.

Olora was one of many seaside Nias villages that escaped the worst of the December 2004 tsunami because of its relatively shielded location along the Mentawai Straits. It wasn’t so lucky in March 2005, however, when a quake measured at 8.6 on the Richter Scale shook Nias and parts of nearby Sumatra, killing some 1300 people, most of them on Nias.

Huda’s home was destroyed and his boat damaged by the quake, yet soon Church World Service, a member of the ACT Alliance, started working with a cooperative of Olora fishermen, providing them with new nets and boats in order to jump start the village economy by getting them back to sea as quickly as possible. The boats were built locally, and soon Huda and his colleagues were bringing home the catch. They used the proceeds to repair their homes and rebuild their lives.

In the decade since, it’s been hard to maintain the same enthusiasm about fishing. As fish prices eroded, costs for gasoline for their boat motors went up. Given the daily use of a boat in the salt water and tropical sun, boats have to be replaced every two or three years. Before long, the cooperative dissolved as one member after another gave up on fishing.

Huda has persevered, though he can no longer afford a boat motor, so he uses a smaller boat he paddles from shore. That puts him at a disadvantage.

“The big fish are all out farther, but to catch them I’d need a motor to get there. I can’t go that far, so I catch fewer and smaller fish,” he said.

Climate change has also had a negative impact.

“In the past, we could predict with relative accuracy when the fish would be migrating, and where they’d be,” he said. “But not now. And the thunder storms are stronger now than they used to be. If you’re out to sea in a small boat and get caught in a thunder storm, it can get rather difficult. All we have is a compass, and when it gets bad we can’t see where we are. We struggle to get to shore somewhere.”

Huda goes to sea every morning about 4 am, returning with his catch about 10 am. He sells the fish along the highway that runs along the coast, but he complains that fish from other areas, even from Sumatra, are brought to Olora to be sold, driving down the price he receives.

He used to go out again in the evening, but says he seldom does that now. “That’s when the younger ones go out again,” he said.

Huda has a 16-year old son, and although fishing has long been a family tradition, he wouldn’t mind if his son found more stable work. In Olora most young men still take up fishing, Huda says, but in nearby Gunungsitoli most young men are turning to construction work and mechanic’s jobs to earn a living. Huda doesn’t know how long people in Olora will continue to look to the sea for their livelihood.