Some of the country’s best restaurants serve up green mussels steamed, baked or in curries. But the menu price on a single plate of the delicacy hardly reflects the amount of labor put into the shucking of the mollusks by the wives of North Jakarta fishermen on any given day.
North Jakarta’s fishing sub-district of Cilincing is renowned nationwide for its green mussels, but fishermen and their wives are complaining that with growing pollution in Jakarta Bay tainting the seafood paired with falling demand in the capital, more and more shuckers are losing their jobs. Many are now scavenging for food instead.
During Wednesday’s visit by the Jakarta Globe, 54-year-old Astia said that she has been shucking mussels for 10 years, but she was earning less today for double the work she was doing in previous years.
“The green mussels are smaller now than before. We earn Rp 2,000 [23 cents] for a single kilogram of green mussels, but we have to peel more of them nowadays. We work so much harder, but we still make less,” Astia told the Globe, as she sat with other women around a pile of mussels, removing them from their shells one at a time.
“But nobody cares. Nobody gives us basic food supplies. So, we have to do whatever we can to eat rice.”
Ruswati, 34, said she earned a maximum of Rp 18,000 on a good day of shucking. But her eldest son, 15, had to be taken out of school to make ends meet three years ago, joining his father fishing. However, Ruswati said she counted herself among the lucky ones.
Suwardi, 32, said he used to set out for fish and mussels at the same time, but due to changes in the weather and environment, “there is no job available for people like me anymore.”
“I now look for plastic bottles in piles of rubbish by the beach, to sell them. At least my family can stay alive,” Suwardi said.
“I sell one sack of clean bottles for Rp 5,000. A bag of dirty bottles gets me just Rp 3,000,” he added.
“Although we end up eating just tofu with some salt, we have to keep trying to make enough so we can eat rice. We’ve grown tired of complaining to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He does not seem to care, even though we have protested in front of his palace.”
Riza Damanik, secretary general for the Fisheries Justice Coalition (Kiara), said fishing families in Cilincing were being pushed into poverty and had resorted to scavenging because of the pollution affecting Jakarta’s northern coast.
“Mussels are among the fastest to respond to changes in the environment. And there are so many industries polluting the Jakarta Bay with toxic waste, for instance,” he said.
“Pollution is destroying the bay, and, we believe, so will the city’s land reclamation project there, if goes ahead. All this pollution will affect the quality of marine life, which in turn will directly affect the lives of fishing families,” Riza said.
“Fishing families across Indonesia are losing their livelihoods because pollution is destroying our bays. Pollution and land reclamation projects will push even more fishing families into poverty. They become scavengers, or laborers.”
The same sentiments were shared by green mussel entrepreneur Minen, who told the Globe on Wednesday that his three farms were affected too.
“I would get, for instance, just 100 sacks of small green mussels from all three farms in a single day. And we cannot use all of them because some are polluted by toxic waste!” Minen said.
“I invested Rp 6 million to build the farms, for the bamboo, the nets and the people,” he said. “Instead of profit, I have been making losses. Still, I have to try making money. I can help people in my neighborhood to have an income, even though it’s not a lot.”