WCS team documented conflict among fishers on Weh

A system of customary management, under the customary Acehnese law, known as the Panglima Laot (Commander of the Sea), is recognized in the Aceh province of Indonesia by local and national legislation. The laws have the guiding principle of creating peace and harmony through the settlement of disputes among fishers (Nurdin et al. 2004). The territory of the Panglima Laot is restricted to a single port or lhok, with the province of Aceh divided into 193 lhoks, each with its own set of rules and leader. Fishers of each lhok elect their own Panglima Laot according to local custom. The Panglima Laot dictates who is entitled to the catch at sea, what fishing gears can be used, can place bans on fishers from fishing on religious days, oblige fishers to stop fishing to initiate searches for lost fishermen, and can enforce measures to protect the coastal environment from threats such as poorly placed development and agriculture (Janssen 2005).

The enforcement of laws of the Aceh Provincial Government, as mandated by the Helsinky MoU declared in 2006, can be devolved to adjudications by Panglima Laot concerning fishing rights and violations, where narcotics, murder, terrorism and other acts have not violated provincial and national criminal law. Panglima Laot can also apply national fisheries laws to designate zonation of fishing uses within their territories and can restrict use of fishing gears (eg. prohibition of muro-ami nets, hookah and compressor) that may be permitted by provincial and national laws. Such traditional laws can implement controls on fisheries resource use that have direct relevance to local community needs concerning fishing rights, use and access, that are not able to be legislated or enforced by national laws. Sanctions or punishments decided by each Panglima Laot are administered through community meetings and ceremonies to reach consensus among parties for the purposes of maintaining social harmony within and among fisher communities, and to avoid financial and other losses to communities.

On Weh Island no cases have occurred where adjudications by the Panglima Laot have violated provincial and national law and each of the consensus agreements reached have been adhered to by communities involved in this application of traditional law. The Panglima Laot system of governance is akin to contemporary local rule where the consensus of local people is achieved based on their empirical knowledge of local fisheries resources, use and access.

On Weh Island the strongest Panglima Laot operate in the lhoks of Ie Meulee, Anoi Itam and Iboih. Ie Meulee are most consistent in enforcing their marine customary law with traditional ceremonies in 2007 and 2008 conducted to resolve poaching by lhok Pasiran fishers using muro-ami nets in Ie Meulee waters. A third occurred in 2009 when a boat from lhok Keunekai was apprehended by Ie Meulee fishers for fishing sea cucumber using hookah and compressor in a reef under protection by marine customary law. During the apprehension, fighting among fishers occurred and the subsequent investigation and traditional ceremony resolved the conflict among all parties concerned. The outcome was a resolution under Acehnese traditional law to cancel accusations of physical violence reported to police, pay customary fines where necessary, allow boat, gears, tools and catch to be returned to Keunekai fishermen and put in place agreements that fishers of Keunekai will be arrested and all gear and catch impounded if the infringement occurs again.

Other restrictions pertaining to customary law are enforced in the lhoks of Iboih and Anoi Itam on net fishing, the use of hookah and compressor and spear gun, yet the application of this law is sometimes inconsistent. In all lhoks of Weh island, the use of trawl nets, blast fishing and cyanide are prohibited on coral reef areas, and for the most part these laws are enforced. The Panglima Laot are also able to adjudicate over punishments given to fishers who break traditional laws within their own communities. Penalties may include monetary fines, banning from community events and sanctions on fishing activities. The enforcement of these laws by the Panglima Laot is a social instrument to engender strength of leadership and respect for customary law by communities inside and outside their jurisdiction.