Indonesian fishermen still use banned destructive fishing nets, despite threat to ocean

The government has banned the use of cantrang, the destructive net which trap juvenile fish as well, for fishing in all Indonesian waters in July 2021.  However, one year on, there are still many fishermen using cantrang, for example, in the northern coast of Java, Lamongan in east Java, and Rembang, Pati, and Tegal in Central Java.

Since the ban, officials had arrested a cantrang boat at Pati, Central Java in March.  In South Kalimantan, a cantrang boat was burned.  However, these were isolated cases. It is perceived that the authority is not fully implementing the spirit of the law because the fishing community forms a large voting bloc and that jobs and incomes are involved.

An official inspects fishing net on a fishing boat in Natuna, March 2022. The cantrang net was found. Photo credit : Polairud Natuna

Fishermen, including those from Natuna Regency, Riau Islands Province, are still using cantrang partly because there is a lack of enforcement and because they worried that the jaring tarik berkantong (JTB) net, which is meant to replace the cantrang, is not effective.

The JTB net allows small juvenile fish to escape through its square-shaped mesh, with a size of five cm, as compared to the cantrang with only a diamond-shaped mesh size of 2.5 cm. The cantrang net is dragged closed to the seabed, similar to trawling, which is prohibited in a number of countries, including Indonesia.

Squid fishing boats docked at Muara Angke, North Jakarta. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani
Fishermen unloads their catch from fishing boats. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani
Fishermen weigh catch. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

Abdul Halim, executive director of the Indonesian Maritime Studies Center, said the government should find a policy which can balance politics, economic needs and environmental concerns.  Cantrang is a traditional fishing net, used for decades by generations of fishermen but has been scientifically proven to be destructive to fish and marine species.  The use of cantrang is in fact depleting the fish stock.

Therefore, Halim said public education and raising awareness is key to spread the message to fishermen that sustainable fishing is important to their livelihood.  Also, the government can provide financial assistance to help convert cantrang boats to JTB boats to lessen the burden on the already impoverished fishermen.

Tarno repairs his fishing gear. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

Tarno, a traditional fisherman in Muara Angke, North Jakarta, said the increasing use of trawling and cantrang nets are drastically depleting the fish stock at his fishing grounds, which resulted in lower incomes for him and other fishermen. 

“Traditional fishermen like us are still using fish traps and we are unable to compete with trawling and cantrang,” he said.  “Those that are using trawling and cantrang are destroying the marine ecosystem. Our fishing traps are damaged by the trawl too.  Nowadays, I often go home empty-handed after fishing trips and I cannot feed my family.”

Top photo credit: Asnawi. Fishermen handling cantrang nets in the Brondong Archipelago Fisheries Port area, Lamongan Regency, East Java.

Iqbal Ramdhani

Iqbal Ramdhani

Iqbal Ramdhani, Indonesia Correspondent, is a former journalist with a lifestyle magazine. He enjoys sharing his writing with the public, and finds happiness when his content can help readers advance their careers.

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