With dwindling catch, Indonesian fishermen find it difficult to make a living

At the Fisherman’s Village in Cilincing, North Jakarta, rows of traditional wooden fishing boats are moored at the end of the river which empties out into the sea.  Hundreds of villagers depended on the sea for a living, working as fishermen, just like their parents before them. 

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Fishing boats moored at the pier of Cilincing Fisherman’s Village, North Jakarta, August 19, 2022.

The fish catch is diminishing because of overfishing, illegal fishing by foreign fishing vessels and climate change.  The local fishermen have to spend more days and travel further out at sea to find fishing grounds. While out at sea, the fishermen are exposed to the elements in their small boats, braving strong sun, big waves and howling winds. 

Fishermen transporting their catch to sell, 19 August 2022.

Fishing is a tough job and the catch is not guaranteed. Sometimes, they caught more, and sometimes, they caught nothing.  Luck plays a big part as do weather, currents and seasons.  Nonetheless, fishing is the only job they know as they are not educated enough to work in other jobs.

Fish vendor is weighing and buying fish from fishermen at Cilincing Fisherman’s Village, August 19, 2022.

Anton, one of the fishermen in Cilincing, told Maritime Fairtrade: “We bring our cooking utensils and ingredients on the boats with us when we go fishing because we don’t know how long we’ll be out at sea.  We cook our own food and make drinks like coffee.  We also make sure to bring enough fuel for the trip.  The total cost can run up to IDR1,000,000 (US$67) per trip.”

Recently, when Anton and his group went on a three-day fishing trip, they caught only one two kg tuna and sold it for IDR40,000.  This was not enough to cover the cost of the trip and they made a lost.

“We lost money and we can’t pay our debts.  We still owed money to vendors who supplied us with the necessities for our fishing trips.  Life as a fisherman is getting harder every day and I wonder how to support my family,” said Anton.

A fisherman repairs broken net, August 19, 2022.

Arifin has the same experience and said fishermen have a hard live.

“When we are at sea, we never know whether we will catch anything.  Fishing now is like gambling. You can win big but you can also lose big. If we are lucky, we can catch a lot of fish worth millions of rupiah.  However, when we have bad luck, we end up with nothing.  And we still have to pay our suppliers,” Arifin said.

“Sometimes when we have no money, we will even put our food for the trip on tab and hope that after our fishing trip, we can earn enough to pay off the debt. Besides a dwindling catch, we have to compete with large commercial fishing vessels and illegal fishing using banned trawlers as well.”

Arifin hoped the government can take some decisive actions to help them.

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Children of fishermen playing on the street of Fisherman’s Village, August 19, 2022.

All photos credit: Iqbal Ramdhani. Top photo: Fishermen going out to sea to catch fish, August 19, 2022.

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