With Indonesia’s new fishing policy starting soon, fishers still mostly unaware

With Indonesia’s new fishing policy starting soon, fishers still mostly unaware
  • Indonesia is scheduled to enforce a new fisheries policy at the start of the new year, but new reports have highlighted persistent inadequacies in the strategy.
  • The office of the Indonesian Ombudsman says the quota-based fisheries management policy in general lacks accountability and transparency, including broader consultation with fishing communities.
  • A separate report from Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, an NGO, similarly found that many fishers had very limited awareness of the regulation changes and that existing fisheries infrastructure was inadequate to support the new strategy.
  • Both organizations have called on the fisheries ministry to boost its efforts in public outreach about the new policy and ensure infrastructural readiness at all levels of government in the short time remaining before the policy goes into force.

JAKARTA — As the 2024 start date looms for Indonesia’s controversial new quota-based fisheries policy, experts and watchdogs continue to flag what they say are fundamental inadequacies in the strategy.

Introduced by the Indonesian fisheries ministry in March this year, the quota-based fisheries management policy is aimed at maximizing state revenue from the fisheries sector and is set to go into force at the start of the new year. A key policy change from the previous policy is the introduction of quota-based capture for industrial, local and noncommercial fishers in six fishing zones that cover the archipelago’s 11 fisheries management areas (FMAs).

However, two separate reports published in late November by the office of the Indonesian Ombudsman and the NGO Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia have highlighted a list of shortcomings and potential downsides from the new strategy.

“The quota- and zone-based fisheries policy is still not yet fully understood by fishers, boat owners and fishing companies,” Hery Susanto, from the office of the ombudsman, said in a public statement dated Nov. 30.

Indonesia’s various fisheries management areas, or FMAs. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

According to the office, the new management policy in general lacks accountability and transparency. The same complaint is echoed in the DFW-Indonesia report, which found that many fishers had very limited awareness of the regulation changes and also highlighted the inadequate fisheries infrastructure in place to support the new strategy.

“The QBFM policy is still far from ready to be implemented in 2024 at hundreds of ports across Indonesia,” Felicia Nugroho, a researcher at DFW-Indonesia, said at an online press conference on Nov. 23.

Both organizations also took issue with the voluntary scheme for reporting catches to the authorities. Without strict monitoring and evaluation in place, they warn, it could backfire, resulting in under- and misestimates, thereby threatening the country’s fish stocks.

The office of the ombudsman specifically noted that the fisheries ministry still lacks the systems and mechanisms to establish intensive and widespread monitoring across the archipelago to prevent exploitation of fishing zones.

The previous fisheries management policy allowed all fishing operators, — from artisanal to industrial, to catch as much fish as they wanted as long as the total capture did not exceed a total allowable catch (TAC), capped at 80% of the estimated fish stock. The new quota system will allocate a percentage of the TAC to each category of fisher.

Those affected are industrial, local and noncommercial fishers, while small fishers are exempted from the quota. In addition, industrial fishers are not allowed to operate within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of the coast. Indonesia’s fisheries ministry says this approach should help reduce pressure on fish stocks and maintain their sustainability, while also encouraging and benefiting small fishers, who make up the majority of the country’s fishers.

Indonesia’s fisheries minister, Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, right, watches a catch of fish being offloaded. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

According to DFW-Indonesia, misuse of the given catch quota poses another potential downside from the new policy. It said it’s not clear yet how the government would allocate the quotas to each fishing group while ensuring they were fairly allocated.

The latest data released by the fisheries ministry put Indonesia’s estimated fish stocks at 12 million metric tons, down almost 4% from the 12.5 million metric tons estimated in 2017. The data also show that 53% of the country’s FMAs are now deemed “fully exploited,” up from 44% in 2017, indicating that more stringent monitoring is required.

The fisheries ministry has acknowledged that compliance among fishing companies in Indonesia is low. The ministry has officially registered just 6,000 fishing permits, but the transportation ministry records some 23,000 permitted vessels.

“Our concern is that if the allocation process isn’t transparent and accountable, then the catch quotas could eventually end up only in the hands of industrial fishers and be a source for rent-seeking practices,” Felicia said. “And that could create oligarchs in the fisheries sector.”

Both DFW-Indonesia and the office of the ombudsman called on the fisheries ministry to boost its efforts in public outreach about the new policy and ensure infrastructural readiness at all levels of government in the short time remaining before the policy goes into force. They also called for measures to ensure protection of small-scale and artisanal fishers.

Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest marine capture producer, after China, harvesting 84.4 million metric tons of seafood in 2018, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its wild capture fisheries employ around 2.7 million workers; the majority of Indonesian fishers are small-scale operators, with vessels smaller than 10 gross tonnage.

Under the business-as-usual scenario, the country’s capture fisheries is projected to expand at an annual rate of 2.1% from 2012 to 2030. The country’s waters support some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the world, and the general fisheries industry employs about 12 million Indonesians.

Indonesian tuna fishers in Papua province. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay. Find him on 𝕏 @bgokkon.

See related from this reporter:

Indonesian fishers not biting at new policy perceived as undermining them

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