Indonesian Fishermen Struggle to Make a Living

The government can do more to support livelihood and food security.

The traditional and small-scale fishermen are an important part of the fishing industry and the government can give more support to ensure their safety in this dangerous career.  

Between December 2020 and June 2021, the Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) reported that there were 42 fishing vessels accidents in Indonesians waters, with 14 people dead and 83 missing. The majority of the accidents happened to small boats under 10 gross ton (GT). 

“In average, seven accidents happen to our fishermen in a month, and they almost always claim lives,” DFW national coordinator Moh. Abdi Suhufan said in a statement.

Educating fishermen of available help

The ocean is a dangerous place, especially for small fishing boats with hardly any modern devices when faced with severe catastrophic weather conditions.  Because of poverty and a lack of other career options, the traditional fishermen have no choice but to brace themselves and face the dangers so as to provide for their families.

When fishermen can’t fish, whether due to physical incapacity or inclement weather, the whole family suffers.  Importantly too, helping the fishermen will also ensure food security for the whole country.

Ideally, the government should promote widely the availability of social protection programs to make sure fishermen understand all the options open to them.  But in reality, social protection is still very poorly distributed. According to data from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, only half of fishermen in the country is registered to receive such aids.

“They have to work with practically no protection, minimum safety equipment, and many are even without insurance” Suhufan added.

According to the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen Association (KNTI), insurance remains a luxury among traditional fishers, and many of them are not even aware of such a scheme.

“In general, fishermen aren’t very familiar with social protection, including insurance scheme. A big number of them don’t even understand how it works and have no idea how to get one,” Hendra Wiguna from KNTI’s Member Reinforcement Bureau told Maritime Fairtrade. 

Wiguna said a lack of promoting awareness and limited accessibility to social services are the main challenge.  The relevant authorities can do well to cut down on bureaucracy and make it more convenient for fishermen to apply for such schemes.  For example, they can start by establishing service centers in local fishing communities to disseminate information and act as a one-stop shop.

Holistic support needed

According to Wiguna, traditional fishermen are also in a dire need of technological support, including safety equipment, weather forecast system and an upgrade to their old boats to help them stay safe while out at sea.  There must also be continued government support in the areas of fuel subsidy and safeguard for a fair price of fishermen’s catch.

Additionally, they need help when not fishing too.

“It’s important to understand that fishermen not only face the risk of accidents when they’re in the sea but are also at the mercy of the weather even when they are on land because they live along the coast. Waves may crash their docked boats, and their houses may become uninhabitable due to tidal flood,” he explained.

During bad weather when it is not safe for fishermen to go out, they are not earning any income at all and even if they can fish during good weather, there is no guarantee that they will have a good catch.  This unpredictability and income instability is making it harder than it already is for fishermen to raise a family.

To lessen dependence on the weather and sea and to give them an alternative source of income, Wiguna said the government can support the local fishing community to join the fish farming industry, or give them jobs in the marine tourism industry.  He also raised the possibility of encouraging women to join the fish processing industry.  

Traditional and small-time fishermen, which make up 90 percent of the industry, are the backbone but yet, they are the most vulnerable.  Therefore, it is time now for the government to help them become sustainable not only to ensure their livelihood but also for the food security of the whole country as well.

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