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Jakarta Post

Indonesia and the problem of illegal fishing

  • Ibrahim Almuttaqi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, April 5, 2014   /  10:25 am

In recent months, Indonesia has found itself drawn into a number of serious maritime disputes with its neighbors.

The decision to name an Indonesian Navy corvette as '€œKRI Usman-Harun'€ drew criticism from Singapore, which decried Jakarta'€™s perceived lack of sensitivity. Jakarta was on the other side of the coin when it earlier criticized Australia'€™s lack of sensitivity over Operation Sovereign Borders.

More seriously '€” though with less coverage '€” there were incidents involving Papua New Guinea and Thailand. In the case of Papua New Guinea, media reports stated that five Indonesian fishermen went missing after their fishing vessel was stopped and set alight by Papua New Guinean forces, with the fishermen left to swim back to shore.

In the case of Thailand, two Indonesian sailors were killed after they boarded a Thai fishing vessel that had been operating in Indonesian waters.

While the topic of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is often dismissed as being of little interest to the general public, the cases of Papua New Guinea and Thailand demonstrate the important and sensitive implications that IUU fishing has on political and security matters.

With countries such as China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam conducting IUU fishing in Indonesia'€™s Arafura, Celebes and Natuna seas, there exists a regional element to IUU fishing.

The Habibie Center recently held a '€œTalking ASEAN'€ public discussion on that issue, inviting experts from the government, academia and the private sector.  

There, it was revealed that the global fishing industry not only drew US$80 billion in fisheries revenue but moreover, it went on to generate $240 billion for the global economy.

Interestingly, 31.4 million metric tons of fish products (or 21 percent of global production) was sourced from the ASEAN region with Indonesia supplying 33.8 percent of the region'€™s fish products.

Worryingly, IUU fishing meant Indonesia was losing $2-5 billion annually.

Such costs did not yet take into account the environmental consequences of IUU fishing, which not only resulted in pollution but also caused 71 percent of mangrove and 70 percent of coral reefs to suffer degradation.

As such, it is clear that IUU fishing is a major issue that covers political, security, regional, economic and environmental concerns for Indonesia.

Yet, as the country enters crucial legislative and presidential elections, one can hardly find IUU fishing mentioned in any political debate or campaign rally.

This is demonstrative of the lack of political will cited by experts as contributing to Indonesia'€™s difficulties in addressing IUU fishing. This in turn resulted in lack of funding, a lack of capacity and a lack of coordination.

Exacerbating this problem is what some refer to as the '€œchanging fashion'€ of fisheries management.

Over the decades, Indonesia has adopted poor, inconsistent fisheries management '€” a problem seen elsewhere in ASEAN. For example, the 1970s saw Indonesia'€™s fisheries policy orientated toward economic growth.

While the focus was still on growth, by the 1980s and 1990s there was an increasing awareness of the need to rationalize the level of fishing in Indonesian waters.

In the 21st century, Indonesia witnessed the mixed policies of industrialization on the one hand and a ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM) on the other, or marine protected areas (MPA) on the one hand and regionalization on the other.

With the current government coming to an end, it will be interesting to see what direction the next government takes in terms of fisheries management.

Will the country'€™s new leaders bring about another change of policy? Will these new policies be of a good quality? Will they attach to IUU fishing the level of importance that it deserves?

Noting the soft and hard structural approaches taken by the Indonesian authorities to tackle IUU fishing, one suggestion offered at The Habibie Center'€™s public discussion was to introduce an economic structure approach.

Such an approach meant addressing the current situation, whereby the expected benefits of IUU fishing far outweighed the expected punishments if caught.

Subscribing to the economics of crime and punishment theory, it is unsurprising if IUU fishing continues to take place in Indonesian waters if adequate economic disincentives are lacking (or are poorly enforced).

Beyond adopting market and trade controls such as financial penalties, taxation policies and incentives, it was recommended that cost recovery be introduced to create a sense of responsibility for all players in the fishing industry to reduce IUU fishing.

This would help generate a change in mindset, whereby IUU fishing would no longer be seen as a problem for the authorities alone, but would instead force fishing product companies to also make their own efforts.

Lastly, it was also suggested that the benefit and cost of IUU fishing be incorporated into the country'€™s macroeconomic indicators so as to convince policy makers, especially the new government and legislature, to care more about the problem of IUU fishing.

IUU fishing is a major issue covering political, security, regional, economic and environmental concerns.

It is high time Indonesia recognized it as such and took action.

The writer is the ASEAN Studies Program coordinator at The Habibie Center, Jakarta