The traditional fish market of Jimbaran and a sustainable seafood choice

The traditional fish market of Jimbaran and a sustainable seafood choice

Jimbaran Fish Market, BaliEvery visit to a ‘Pasar Ikan’ (fish market) in Indonesia can be an unforgettable experience. Not only for the smell and the frantic activity around the market, but also because it’s a mirror on the aquatic life of the archipelago, even for people used to see fish only served on a plate.

Fish markets are frequented not just by housewives or restaurants staff, but also by scientists. Few years ago, a biologist discovered the presence of a rare fish, considered extinct since thousand of years, in the Manado fish market. Recently, a team of Australian scientists after a survey of Indonesian fish markets discovered several species new to science, including new species of sharks.

Close to the touristic area of Jimbaran, every early morning local buyers and people from a number of the neighbor hotels and resorts rush for the freshest seafood of the area.

The market it’s “structured” in 3 main parts: a wholesale area, a public sale area and some local fishermen that sell their products directly on the beach.

If you arrive early enough (normally around 6.00 AM) you will have the possibility to observe traditional Jukung (the double outrigger traditional Balinese canoe) coming back to the shore after the night spent fishing.

In the frantic hours before of the official market’s opening (around 7 AM) many vans coming from all around Bali will bring fresh seafood inside thermic boxes, ready to be delivered to Jimbaran sellers. The close ice-producing factory runs to provide long bars of ice to maintain fish protected from the high temperature.

As far as I could notice, by personal observations and questions to the sellers, Jimbaran fishermen normally bring smaller reef-associated fishes or small tunas (like mackerels) that are sold to local customers, while bigger fishes, clams and crustaceans comes mainly from the largest fishing villages located in the North of Bali, like Kusamba and the Amed area.


An eye on sustainable fishing

Jimbaran Fish Market, BaliI always try to have a “sustainable” approach to seafood products. Many seafood resources are already overexploited and should be avoided (for example, shark or turtle meat). A big signboard close to the beach, in Balinese and Indonesian, warns fishermen on the prohibition to fish some species of sharks (like Thresher sharks, intensively fished off Lombok especially during their reproductive season), turtles and dolphins. No signs of prohibited items in the market, even if probably if these captures still occur are sold in an “alternative” way.


What I have noticed is a relatively high presence of undersized animals (like small tunas, or coral groupers) that it’s a clear indication of overfishing on these species. When big fishes have already been targeted for many years, it has been scientifically demonstrated that the average body size of a fish population can decrease, like it has happened to many coral grouper populations all around Indonesia and generally in the world. Even while diving in protected areas, it’s very rare to see a grouper longer than 25-30 cm. I’ve asked to several fishermen on the beach and almost all of them told me that especially in the last 10 years the size of big fish is decreasing.

Big specimens of the so called Mahi-Mahi (dolphinfish), the fish with the big head, indicate that probably it can be a good choice from an overfishing point of view. Not many barracudas around, only a big one that has been sold very quickly, as it is very easy to sell to tourists. The only reef-associated fish with a big size seems to be large snappers, like the red snapper (Kakap Merah, probably overfished).

Not only fishes are sold in the Jimbaran market, but even squids (Cumi-cumi), prawns (Udang), crabs (Kepiting), a couple of enormous lobsters (Udang Raya), and many different species of clams  and scallops (Tiram).

Crustaceans like crabs and lobsters are generally caught in the wild, with different traditional techniques like traps or hand fishing. The prawns, the majority Asian tigers (Udang Windu), raise a big question of sustainability as normally they are farmed in big artificial pools close to the sea, generally replacing mangrove areas, and creating some huge community troubles (for more info, read this very informative article of The Guardian:

To avoid the presence of parasites and illness, normally these farms use a huge amount of antibiotics that after a while can make the farm completely unusable, so a new one should be built replacing other coastal mangroves. Prawns from intensive farming should be avoided, while traditional harvesting could be accepted, even if it’s quite difficult to understand the real source.

Jimbaran Fish Market, BaliI could not identify all the species of prawns for sale in the market; probably some of them are wild-caught species. Trawl fisheries for wild-caught tropical and sub-tropical prawns account for 27% of the world’s fish bycatch: as much as 10kg of bycatch is discarded for every kg of prawns brought to land. Bycatch includes capture of endangered species such as sea turtles and dolphins.

Cephalopods like squids normally are not overfished (with some exceptions): just check the real freshness of what you’re going to buy. I’ve got a food poisoning due to cumi-cumi a couple of years ago and it was a terrible experience.

I think that the key for every consumer is to be aware of his impact on the world. If there were no request for shark fins, our ocean would be still plenty of them. Consumers make the difference in everyday choices, even in the small Jimbaran market. An exhaustive literature is present on the Internet just searching “Sustainable Seafood” in any search engine. An electronic guide to sustainable seafood in Indonesia is available on the WWF website:

Trying to get sustainable seafood is an important choice that can affect the future of our oceans. It’s just a drop in the sea, but it the request for endangered species will be reduced, even their catches will be reduced (it’s the law of the market!) so we can give to these animals the possibility of not become extinct in a while.

Ah, and bring your bag from home, one of these nice thermic bags where you can put ice inside. There are already too many plastic bags around.


A quick guide to sustainable seafood in Bali

The most obvious problem is sometimes neither an expert can recognize a fish in the market, nor the names change depending on the area! But you can give a try, or at least showing to people that you care about it.

Say YES to:

–       Cakalang (Skypjack Tuna)

–       Cumi-Cumi (Squids)

–       Mahi-Mahi (Dolphinfish)

–       Salem (Rainbow Runner)

–       Teri (Anchovies)

–       Farmed Kerapu (Barramundi)

–       Tradisional  Udang Windu (Tiger Shrimp)


Say NO to:

–       Every species of Hiu (Shark)

–       Every species of wild caught Kerapu (Barramundi and other groupers)

–       Penyu (Turtle) and their eggs

–       Maming (Napoleon Wrasse)

–       Tuna Biru (Bluefin Tuna)

–       Ikan Telur (fish eggs)

–       Intensively farmed Udang Windu (Tiger Shrimps)



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