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Jakarta Post

Fighting illegal fishing: Making a big bang with big data

  • Ahmad Baihaki


Jakarta   /   Thu, February 28, 2019   /   03:18 pm
Fighting illegal fishing: Making a big bang with big data Sink them down: Indonesian authorities destroy seven of 75 foreign illegal fishing vessels in the waters off Belawan in Medan, North Sumatra province. (AFP/Gatha Ginting)

With over 17,000 islands and the world’s second longest coastline, Indonesia faces a huge challenge in ensuring its vast marine resources contribute to the welfare of 250 million people and remain healthy and thriving. For the person in charge of such a critical undertaking, it is a fearsome and complex responsibility.

Historically, Indonesia’s marine and fishery affairs had not attracted news headlines or the talk of the nation, let alone registered on the world stage. That is, until 2014 when the businesswoman Susi Pudjiastuti became Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister. She arrived with a bang — quite literally, by blowing up seized boats caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

The minister’s inimitable, no-nonsense approach has made the ocean a hot topic for the first time ever in our island nation.

We’ve seen a sharp and sudden increase in the number of students enlisting in marine and fisheries studies — a lecturer of Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java, told me the growing number of teaching staff cannot keep up with the increase in students. And Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java, could take in only 1,200 fisheries students in one batch, after rejecting hundreds.  Minister Susi’s charismatic style and tough stance on illegal fishing has also led to hundreds of reports from local and international media including the Washington Post.

Minister Susi caught the world’s attention when she made the unprecedented move to share Indonesia’s fishing vessel tracking data, known as VMS, with the public through the Global Fishing Watch map platform in 2017. Several other countries have since been inspired by Indonesia’s lead and are sharing or planning to share their VMS data. Global Fishing Watch is an independent, international non-profit organization that promotes ocean sustainability through greater transparency.

We use cutting-edge technology to visualize, track and share data, via our public map platform, about global fishing activity in near real-time and for free. Our work includes working with governments to share their vessel data via our platform and provide analysis to supporting their fisheries monitoring and control. In Indonesia, we work with the DG Surveillance and Presidential Task Force 115 to assist their work in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. We have also benefited hugely from their expertise in Indonesian fisheries and have learnt a lot. Our collaboration has resulted in many successful enforcements, including several high profile cases of IUU fishing, such as the latest case last April of STS 50, a ship wanted by Interpol for transnational organized fisheries crime. The ship, seized by Indonesian authorities in Aceh waters, was known to use different names and change flags in their effort to conceal their identity. Before that, there are two other arrests, of Thai ship Silversea 2 in Aceh in 2015 and Chinese vessel Fy Yuan Yu in the Timor waters, late 2017.

Minister Susi’s commitment to clamping down on IUU fishing is delivering real results. A team at University of California, Santa Barbara analyzed Global Fishing Watch data to gain a comprehensive view of IUU fishing in Indonesia and the impact of the country’s efforts to curb it.

The researchers found that curtailing IUU fishing combined with capping annual harvests at its maximum sustainable level could generate a 14 percent increase in catch and a 15 percent increase in profits by 2035 compared with current levels -- without short-term losses to the local economy.

The research indicates that Indonesia’s marriage of policies and data works – foreign fishing in the country has dropped by more than 90 percent and total fishing by 25 percent. Indonesia’s tough stance on illegal fishing not only jump-started recovery in its waters but also provides a viable example for other countries plagued by illegal fishing.

We are acting as a valuable technology partner to various organizations that are already doing terrific work in Indonesia. Our strength and focus in revolutionizing the visualization of commercial fishing activity, and delivering powerful analyses to further sustainable management, is complementary to earlier efforts by other, long-established organizations.

After a few exciting years growing our partnerships and understanding of marine and fisheries issues in Indonesia, with the support of Walton Family Foundation, we are broadening our Indonesian program. We are expanding our partnerships to NGOs, the fishing industry and academia in Indonesia to work together in achieving better fisheries research and management in our maritime nation.

We are also investing in supporting improved tracking and transparency for Indonesia’s small-scale fishing fleet. Currently, VMS data is only mandated for vessels above 30 gross tons, whereas 90 percent of Indonesian fish catch is taken by smaller vessels that are not tracked via VMS. Several organizations have been collecting tracking data from smaller vessels using devices such as Spottrace, Pelagic Data System or TrekFish and integrating this data into our map will give a more complete view of Indonesian fisheries.

The fishing industry is also an important partner, and many progressive players are eager to meet growing consumer demand for sustainable, traceable seafood. We are collaborating with several industry associations such as the International Pole and Line Foundation (locally AP2HI) to help them ensure their members contribute towards a healthy ocean and vibrant industry through enhanced monitoring and transparency.

And last but not least, we want to support and amplify burgeoning academic interest in Indonesia in fisheries research and science. We intend to accelerate research and innovation using our data. Getting more Indonesians to use our data to produce high quality publications will help us understand better the issues and dynamics in Indonesian fisheries, and their impact globally.

Our “Global Fishing Watch goes to campus” program targets academics from various leading universities and research institutions to interrogate our data and connect them with other research partners in our global network.

Our work is not always easy and we have faced fear and misinformation about the move towards greater transparency in fishing activity. But the benefits of transparency far outweigh any concerns, and with the support of Minister Susi and our government partners we see only great promise and potential for more effective fisheries management in Indonesia.

And with the increasing support, and collaboration with new partners in Indonesia, we feel inspired to continue our work and achieve healthy, vibrant oceans for our people and planet. As our Navy says, Jalesveva jayamahe - Let our glory be at the seas.


The writer is the Indonesia program manager, Global Fishing Watch.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.