Indonesian fishermen in danger of losing jobs over fuel price increase

Trapped in poverty.

With dwindling fish stock and the recent increase of subsidized fuel price, small-time fishermen with old boats are forced to give up their livelihood if the government does not step in to give them more financial help.  Their incomes are drastically reduced, sometimes even making a loss, from fishing.

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Tarno, a fisherman in Muara Angke, North Jakarta, said nowadays, it is difficult to catch a decent amount of fish. Even before the government announced the increase of subsidized fuel price, fishermen already had a hard time making ends meet.  Now, they are considering leaving their livelihood, the only livelihood they know all their lives, and look for other jobs to support their families.

“We need 200 to 400 liters of diesel, one way, for every fishing trip, which last around seven days, sometimes more if we have to stay longer at sea because we did not find enough fish.  The price of mackerel, the kind of fish we usually catch, is only IDR 20,000 (US$1.34) per kilogram.  Therefore, if we do not catch enough fish to cover our cost, we will make a loss,” said Tarno.

Pertalite fuel increased from IDR 7,650 (US$0.51) to IDR 10,000 (US$0.67) per liter, Solar from IDR 5,150 (US$0.35) to IDR 6,800 (US$0.46), and Pertamax from IDR 12,500 (US$0.84) to IDR 14,500 (US$0.97).

A driver fueling up at a petrol station.

Additionally, Mulyadi, a fisherman in the Clincing Fisherman’s Village, North Jakarta, said for the last few years, fishermen faced difficulty in buying subsidized fuel, even when they have official letters from the government certifying their status.

“When we went to the petrol station, the staff there said there was no more fuel.  When we came back later, the staff still said no fuel. When fishermen do not have fuel, we cannot go out to sea to fish and we will have no income.  And we definitely cannot afford to buy non-subsidized fuel, which cost three-time more than subsidized fuel,” said Mulyadi.

“We fish from early morning to late afternoon, and on average we get a maximum of four kg on a good day.  We barely survive after deducting expenses.”

Long queues at petrol station.

Rahman Gafiqi, chairman of DPP Alliance of Small, Modern Indonesian Fishermen (ANKM-I), said: “The government’s fuel price increase has made traditional fishermen’s lives more miserable.  Before the increase, we were already facing hardship with not being able to buy subsidized fuel from petrol stations and a fast-disappearing fish stock.”

Dani Setiawan, chairman of the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen’s Union (KNTI), added: “The price of fuel is about 60 to 70 percent of the total operating cost of a fishing trip.  Based on the result of a 2021 survey conducted by KNTI in collaboration with the Kusuka Coalition consisting of the Initiative Association, FITRA National Secretariat, Kota Kita and Pemuda Muhammadiyah, supported by the International Budget Partnership (IBP), 82.2 percent of fishermen were paying retail price for fuel.

“There are obstacles preventing us from getting subsidized fuel, such as the petrol stations always said they do not have subsidized fuel to sell to us, there is a lack of transparency of who can or cannot buy subsidized fuel, and there is a lack of petrol stations in coastal areas where we live.  Therefore, without the government’s intervention to clear all these obstacles, we firmly reject the increase in subsidized fuel prices.”

Dani added the union is in the process of gathering fishermen’s feedback in four provinces.

Fishing boat refueling at port.

Meanwhile, Sandro Andriawan, chairman of PP Pemuda Muhammadiyah for maritime affairs, said the fuel price increase has cost fishermen their jobs, contributed to inflation and added an extra burden to the economy, which has yet to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Sandro said there is a decline in the NTN (Fishermen Exchange Rate), an indicator of fishermen’s welfare used by the government, and he exhorted the government to extend more financial help to the poor and impoverished fishermen.

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All photos credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

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