Lobster seeds export is no more. That is what Indonesia’s newly-appointed Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries announced in February. Minister Wahyu Sakti Trenggono, who has been running the office since December, said he will make sure his ministry no longer allows the practice of exporting lobster seeds.
Many said it was a wise move because, first of all, allowing lobster seeds export was a policy that landed his predecessor, Edhy Prabowo, in trouble during his tenure. After being picked by President Joko Widodo to lead the Ministry, Prabowo decided to re-allow the policy which was previously banned.
He argued that allowing the export would help improve the livelihood of small-scale fishermen who depend on export. He also hoped the policy would jumpstart more lobster farming in different regions in the country.
The ban was first imposed by former minister Susi Pudjiastuti in 2016 in an attempt to prevent over farming. In addition, exporting lobster seeds was also deemed not optimally profitable from an economic point of view.
The move to lift the ban was proven a fatal mistake when Prabowo was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Commission in November 2020 over a graft case related to lobster seeds export. Later, the Commission’s deputy chairman Nawawi Pomolango confirmed that Prabowo accepted bribes from exporting companies in exchange for export licenses.
Importance of lobster seeds
Lobster is an important commodity due to its high economic value. However, it is worth noting that most countries still rely on wild seed, so availability continues to become a haunting issue, including for Indonesia.
A study by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries found that the survival rate of lobster seeds in Indonesia is very low, only below 0.1 percent, which means only one seed will survive from 10,000.
This makes lobster seeds much sought-after in Indonesia, and experts agree that allowing export will only trigger over farming and will inevitably result in scarcity.
Therefore, the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI)’s marine economic researcher Suhana, in an interview with Maritime Fairtrade, said putting the export ban back in place is the right first step to protect and maintain a healthy lobster population.
If the export ban is carried out firmly, not only will it protect local industry players, but will also elevate Indonesian lobster industry’s competitiveness globally.
No benefit to exporting lobster seeds to competitors
While saying that the government should look up to the Vietnamese’s successful lobster aquaculture development, Suhana also noted that the country quite heavily relies on imported seeds to meet growing demand. Indonesia is one of the biggest importers to Vietnam.
“Vietnam is one of our competitors in the global lobster market, but they depend on us for their seeds supply. And legally allowing the export only hurts Indonesia’s competitiveness. Therefore, it’s the right step to ban the export, and to consistently and strictly implement the policy as a way to protect and support our lobster industry players,” Suhana said.
The government realizes that exporting lobster seeds at lower price to competitors and let them market grown lobsters at a much higher price is not doing any good to the country. While Trenggono has expressed his commitment to ban the export, the next step should be to revise the existing ministerial regulation that regulates the policy.
With a revised regulation in place, the Ministry will have a strong legal basis to take action against illegal export. However, Suhana reminded that being resolute and consistent is just as important as having a clear policy.
More measures needed to support sustainable lobster farming
However, beside the export ban, more follow-up measures are just as important to support the effort. Suhana said the Ministry should carry out a comprehensive assessment on the environmental impact and capacity related to lobster farming.
Such assessment is crucial in order to get actual data of how many floating nets and cages are needed. He also encouraged the Ministry to start the development of hatchery technology to support the national aquaculture program.
Next, Suhana explained it is also important for the government to have pilot projects to determine the most economically profitable and environmentally sustainable farming methods. Such projects can be utilized to persuade investors to partake in Indonesia’s lobster industry, which small-scale fishermen can benefit from.
“Lobster farming requires huge investment and capital, particularly for floating net cages, seeds, and food. Therefore, the government must ensure access to capital for small-scale lobster farmers,” said Suhana.
Lastly, he emphasized the Ministry should support and encourage finding an alternative source of fish feed to the current trash fish, which is the main food for lobster.