Indonesian fishermen turn to salted fish to make ends meet

When Maritime Fairtrade visited a fishing village in Muara Angke, Jakarta, there was a sharp strong smell of fish and brine. Under the hot sun were rows of salted fish, which were cured with dry salt and to be preserved for later eating. Tono, 47-year-old fisherman and his wife were packing sufficiently dried salted fish for sale to buyers.

A fisherman dries salted fish under the hot sun in Muara Angke, Jakarta. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

Tono told Maritime Fairtrade a strong sun in the dry season is a blessing for the local fishing community when they can go out to sea to fish more often and also, they can dry more salted fish for sale.  He added they can dry double the salted fish in dry season as compared to the rainy season, where it might take three to five days. In the dry season, it takes only one afternoon and the quality of the salted fish also turns out better. 

Rows of salted fish. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

Cakra, 55-year-old fisherman, said in the dry season, he can catch more fish, usually two quintals (200 kg) and he can also get a better selling price for his salted fish because of the better quality.

“For example, for anchovy, if in rainy season it is dried for a long time, the price can drop to IDR 30,000 (US$1.95) per kg.  However, in dry season, the price can increase to between IDR 50,000 and IDR 60,000. Beside anchovy, we dry fish such as flying fish, feather fish and mackerel,” Cakra said.

After drying, the salted fish are packed for sale. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

Salted fish, a popular food in Indonesia, can be produced using dry or wet salting or a combination of both. Dry salting, smearing salt on all parts of the fish and inside the abdominal cavity, is used on big fish. Wet salting, soaking the fish in saturated salt water, is used for small fish.

Small salted fish. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

Making salted fish is providing an extra income source for these fishermen to make ends meet, especially during these financially difficult time with high inflation and the economy not doing well.  Salted fish can bring a better price than fresh fish and on average in the dry season, fishermen can earn between IDR 500, 000 to IDR 1 million a day.

Making sure all salted fish are sufficiently dried to ensure quality. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), national salted fish export volume from January to November 2021 was 8.96 million kg, a decrease of 36.54 percent compared to the same period in the previous year of 14.12 million kg. However, the export value increased, US$93.17 million for January to November 2021, compared to US$92.53 million for the same period the previous year.

Rows of salted fish. Photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

Japan is the largest salted fish export destination with a volume of 3.3 million kg with a value of US$22.17 million, followed by China at 1.2 million kg, with a value of US$20.52 million.  To a lesser extent, Indonesia also exports salted fish to Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Top photo credit: Iqbal Ramdhani

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