Illegal fishing undermines Indonesia’s sovereignty and local livelihood

Local fishermen are constantly concerned about their safety because they repeatedly face intimidation from bigger and better equipped foreign fishing vessels.

Despite vows by the Indonesian government to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the crime persists in Indonesian waters and continues to create grueling impacts to related groups and sectors, including local fishermen.  

By Diana M, Indonesia correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

It’s probably safe to say that Indonesia’s then Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti reaffirmed and strengthened the government’s commitment to eradicate the practice of IUU fishing. Appointed in October 2014 during President Joko Widodo’s first term, Pudjiastuti led the effort with one of her signature policies: sinking boats that were caught illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

According to data from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, from October 2014 to October 2019, the ministry sunk 556 boats – 321 of them were Vietnamese, and three were Chinese.

In addition to that, Pudjiastuti also formed the national anti-illegal fishing task force, Satgas 115, in October 2015 which had confiscated and blew up illegal fishing boats within the Indonesian waters.

Local fishermen face intimidation

However, despite the efforts, IUU fishing continues to take place and inevitably creates negative impacts on the livelihood of local fishermen. According to Susan Herawati from People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice, or KIARA, local fishermen largely suffer from significant decrease in the quantity of fish, which ultimately affects their catch and income.

“Moreover, the equipment they used is likely not environmentally-friendly. Also, we don’t have the sufficient information on which resources have been overexploited due to IUU fishing,” Herawati told the Maritime Fairtrade.

National coordinator of Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia Moh. Abdi Suhufan, added that local fishermen, who mostly still use traditional small-scale boats, are constantly concerned about their safety because they repeatedly come across foreign fishing boats in the seas that are generally more advanced.

“IUU fishing creates tension and discomfort among local fishermen because in the waters, they are face-to-face with foreign fishing boats. Fishermen in the Natuna, for example, oftentimes face intimidation from Vietnamese and Chinese fishing boats,” he said.

To mitigate this threat, Suhufan said Indonesian fishermen, especially those located near borders, expect the authorities to hold routine patrols to ensure their safety.

Environmental-wise, the practice of destructive fishing is common in IUU fishing practice and is also severely damaging to the marine ecosystem. According to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the practice of IUU fishing has resulted in massive loss of marine biodiversity. The ministry noted that, compared to 2015, the number of shrimps, snappers, and groupers caught in the Arafura Sea had been decreasing over time – and they are found shrinking in size, too.

Weak law enforcement

Among other things that contribute to the continuous IUU fishing practice is weak law enforcement and a lack of strong and comprehensive law and regulations, and this situation eventually leads to a lack of solutions for the IUU fishing problem, according to Herawati.  

“Up to this day, there is no single regulation or rule that discusses the eradication of IUU fishing in a comprehensive manner,” she said. “There is a tendency to issue regulations without ensuring its strict law enforcement afterwards.”

Meanwhile, in regards to authority, Suhufan believed that each stakeholder has its part to play in fisheries and maritime affairs: from the government, fishermen, to private sectors. However, full sovereignty over maritime management belongs to the people.

“Therefore, every process, stage, policy, and implementation of marine resources management should allow participation from public. And fishermen, too, because leaving them behind is not an option,” he explained.

Collective effort needed

Both KIARA and DFW Indonesia agree that collective effort is the first key to, at least, reduce the practice of IUU fishing in Indonesian waters – if not to entirely wipe the problem off. Since each agency has their own law, KIARA suggested that all concerned bodies carry out discussion on the matter to standardize a comprehensive legally binding framework and commit to enforce it collectively.

While saying that inter-agency synergy is the foundation for the national effort, DFW Indonesia added that proper budgeting to ensure wide monitoring coverage is just as equally important.

“Synergy between agencies should be improved at the field and operational level in order to avoid overlapping tasks. An increase in budget is also necessary for supervision, active public participation, and coming up with a detailed operational plan to prevent IUU fishing in high-risk waters, such as the North Natuna Sea, Sulawesi Sea, and Arafura Sea,” Suhufan said. 

Image credit: PLOO Galary /

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