Jakarta Post: Building sustainable fisheries for benefit of all

Jakarta Post: Building sustainable fisheries for benefit of all

This article was featured in The Jakarta Post, Oct 24th 2016 issue, written by one of our Founders, HS Dillon.

Independence was supposed to bring prosperity to the people of Indonesia, but while many millions have indeed been lifted out of poverty there is one group that has largely been left behind: fisherfolk.

It is true that some coastal communities have prospered over the years, mainly those fortunate enough to have ready access to larger markets, but for the vast majority employed in actual fish catching, little has changed.

The government has come and gone, but livelihoods have remained uncertain with usually informal, often seasonal employment and the lack of even a semblance of welfare protection. Often it is a pattern of debt repayment that lasts from cradle to grave, as the proceeds from a successful fishing trip merely cover the expenses accrued by the family during the time away; there is little to save for life’s emergencies.

Much of the blame for this can be placed squarely on the shoulders of lackluster governance in the past and a common attitude about the exploitation of the nation’s resource riches: Let’s cash in today and tomorrow can take care of itself.

If these are the growing pains of a young nation, reality demands we take responsibility for putting in place policies that will not only raise the standards of the current generation but also ensure that their children’s children can enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Moreover, this must apply across the Indonesian population as a whole, not just favor little cliques as in the past. Fortunately, in Susi Pudjiastuti we have a fisheries minister who understands not only the urgency of the situation but also the fisheries industry itself and the reasons for its current distress. From her own experience she has seen how large foreign fishing vessels plunder our waters and damage our coral reefs, thus threatening long-term viability.

Indonesia is not alone in suffering from the ravages of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which has emptied the world’s oceans of fish over recent decades.

Moreover, the World Bank estimates that IUU fishing has cost Indonesia up to US$20 billion per year in lost state revenue, while at the same time causing lost livelihoods for countless Indonesian fisherfolk, despite increased catches being hauled from their traditional fishing grounds. During a moratorium imposed from November 2014 through October 2015, investigations of some 1,100 foreign-built vessels that had been licensed to operate in Indonesian waters were carried out.

Results confirmed suspicions and revealed a range of violations and criminal offences. Some pertained to fishing activities such as the employment of foreign crews, fishing outside permitted areas, use of destructive fishing methods and equipment, turning off location equipment when at sea, illegal transshipment of catches at sea and deliveries to foreign ports without customs checks or proper documentation.

Others were of a more sinister nature, however, such as the smuggling of people, goods and endangered species, for IUU fishing is often linked to the trafficking of arms, drugs and people, and where a culture of bribery exists it also stimulates money laundering and tax evasion. With transnational crimes occurring in more than a single country, the sums involved are often large enough to attract international crime syndicates.

Moving swiftly to combat IUU fishing, the task force of five government agencies operating as a single unit under the direction of the minister has already hit the headlines on a number of occasions.

Yet while the removal of IUU fishing is a primary goal to restore Indonesian control over its own marine resources, equally important is the utilization of these resources to provide livelihoods for Indonesians and regulation of the fisheries industry to ensure a balanced sustainability of marine biomass moving forward.

 To this end, following input from a wide cross-section of the industry, a ministerial regulation was issued last December, the implementating regulation for which is expected later this month.

This was no sugar-coated placebo to safeguard the interests of those who have operated with impunity in the past, but a corrective medicine that in some quarters will be hard to swallow. In a first for Indonesia, and the world, corporations in the capture fisheries business are obliged to have an internal human rights policy, conduct human rights due diligence and obtain human rights certification as prerequisites for obtaining a business license.

Not all will agree, of course, but in answering questions about those fishermen and boat owners demonstrating against the regulations and demanding a return to seine net fishing, Susi suggested it had been provoked by only a handful of boat owners who oppose the government regulations.

Confirming there will be no return to seine fishing, she pointed out that it is a relatively new introduction from outside and Indonesian fishermen had previously employed far more ecofriendly methods of catching fish.

Furthermore, the government is helping to facilitate the replacement of the nets with more conventional fishing equipment. Meanwhile, to answer charges that the issuance of permits for fishing vessels is taking time, she countered that the process is not being helped by owners who register a vessel as being of a certain capacity and then carry out modifications to increase its capacity.

While it will take several years before the effects of these measures start to become fully apparent, Indonesian fisherfolk stand to see great benefits, not least in the recognition of their rights as workers and a guarantee of humane working conditions in what has often been a lawless grey area that few cared about.

Susi’s actions are a clear demonstration of how President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s “mental revolution” is supposed to work. They are also proving that transparent and responsible governance is possible in Indonesia, a fact that is earning plaudits and support from world leaders for Susi’s campaign to build a sustainable fisheries industry that benefits all Indonesians.


The writer is founder of the Center for Agricultural and People Support Indonesia.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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