For whose benefit does Indonesia’s measured fishing policy serves?

Putting an end to—or rather, slowing down—the overexploitation of natural resources in Indonesia’s territorial waters is supposedly what the country’s authorities looked to achieve when they introduced the measured fishing policy.

The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) has said the recently-issued government regulation (PP) No. 11/2023 is mainly based on the principles of blue economy, with emphasize on proper resource management to ensure sustainability. However, many doubt the new policy will be effective in serving its purpose, and experts have raised concerns on how it will negatively affect the livelihood of small-scale and traditional fishermen.

In regard to quota-based fishing regulated in the policy, the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen Association (KNTI) said it is unlikely that small fishermen in regions across Indonesia could use the latest directive for their benefits.

“There have been no preceding policies like access to financing or cooperative assistance that would empower … small fishermen and enable them to access the designed quota,” KNTI chair Dani Setiawan told Maritime Fairtrade. “Only industry players with access to domestic and foreign capital can enjoy the economic potential of fishery resources.”

Indonesia’s Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister, Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, confirmed the measured fishing policy would regulate three categories of quota: for local fishermen and coastal communities, industries, and non-commercial purposes.

Koral, a coalition of NGOs for sustainable fisheries also highlighted a certain rule within the policy which regulates “fishing contract” in Indonesia’s 11 fisheries management areas (FMA, or locally known as WPP). In a working paper discussing the measured fishing policy, Koral warned about a potential disaster, in renting out the FMA, that might arise considering some areas are already overexploited.

“Regarding the plan to ‘rent out’ 11 WPPs in Indonesia, the government has failed to offer clear and objective arguments since the majority of the areas have been fully exploited and overexploited, particularly WPP 711 (covering the waters of Karimata Strait, Natuna Sea and the South China Sea), 713 (Makassar Strait, Gulf of Bone, Flores Sea, and Bali Sea), and 718 (the Aru Sea, Arafuru Sea and East Timor Sea),” Koral stated.

The Indonesian government is planning on dividing the country’s WPP into industrial fisheries zones (WPP 572, 573, 711, 715, 716, 717, and 718), local fisheries (572, 712, and 713) and reservation (714). Koral saw the zoning system as “problematic” and accused it of being largely industry-oriented without taking into consideration the actual status of assigned areas.

Another burden for small-scale fishermen

KKP has been open in admitting that it seeks to increase the non-tax state revenue (PNBP) through the implementation of measured fishing policy. While agreeing that the latest regulation might allow more capital into the industry, KNTI was skeptical that such macroeconomic upside would end up providing significant improvement to the livelihood of local small-scale fishermen across Indonesia.

“Economically wise, (the policy) may contribute to state revenue. However, we’re concerned that without clear regulations on fishing quota limit (that can be obtained by foreign capital and domestic industry players) as well as stringent monitoring and supervision, the potential of overfishing will be even higher,” KNTI’s Setiawan said.

Even prior to the measured fishing agenda, fishermen had been facing different struggles in their line of work, including competing with foreign fishing vessels with far more advanced technologies. And upon the issuance of government regulation No. 11/2023, the association noted more potential risks for the group.

“There are risks of conflict among small fishermen, local fishermen, and industry size fishermen. Another risk faced by small-scale fishermen is losing their fishing grounds and resources within certain zones,” Setiawan explained. “They are also prone to experiencing decline in catch due to overfishing.”

KNTI is calling for the current administration to formulate a holistic regulation to take into account and protect small-scale fishermen too, including those living in the outermost regions. One of the ways is by integrating policies made by central government with those at local levels.

Similarly, Koral also urged KKP to make major adjustment to the core of the policy which it predicted would put both coastal communities and environment in great danger.

“The measured fishing policy is one privatization model in capture fisheries sector which will have implications for exploitation for the benefit of investors, marginalization and deprivation of rights of the coastal communities including local-traditional fishermen and indigenous peoples, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions which will exacerbate the climate crisis caused by marine and fisheries sector in Indonesia.”

Photo credit: iStock/ EoNaYa. Indonesian traditional fishermen at Jimbaran beach, Bali.

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