The Jakarta Post
While their livelihoods are already affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, small-scale fishermen in the country may face more danger in the form of a contentious omnibus bill on job creation, which may place them in an unfair competition with larger fishermen.
Madina, 47, a fisherman for over two decades in Cilincing, North Jakarta, said 2020 had so far been the hardest year to make ends meet.
The period from March to May is typically not off-season for fishing, even for small-scale fishermen with small boats like himself.
Yet he has not been able to find markets or wholesalers who wanted to buy his catch at a proper price in the past few months, given that many businesses — like restaurants — are suffering financially due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
He said he used to be able to sell various fish at around Rp 18,000 (US$1.20) per kilogram and up to Rp 30,000 for crabs. But now, he can only sell fish for Rp 10,000 per kg and even as low as Rp 5,500 per kg to fish-curing businesses just to get through the day.
The daily volume of fishing catch varies among fishermen, depending on the size of their boats. A small fishing vessel with two to three additional crew members can usually catch 20 to 40 kg of fish during regular seasons, according to Madina. Meanwhile, he must spend at least Rp 160,000 a day on fuel and other expenses for fishing.
“Because of the pandemic and social restrictions, every [fishermen] here in Cilincing is affected," Madina told The Jakarta Post. "But we can't keep wallowing in it.”
Activists have warned of another looming threat even when the pandemic is over, namely the omnibus bill, which is heavy on luring new investments and revises several provisions in the 2004 law on fisheries and the 2016 law on protection for small-scale fishermen. In particular, it no longer distinguishes between fishermen with large boats and those with small boats, which critics say may put small-scale fishermen in an unfair competition with larger fishermen.
According to the 2004 law, small-scale fishermen are those operating boats under 5 gross tonnage (GT). While the 2016 law regulates privileges and government subsidies for fishermen with boats under 10 GT.
Activists have also criticized the omnibus bill for requiring small fishermen to have permits.
“If there are no distinct categories, we fear that larger-scale fishermen would receive the same privileges as smaller fishermen,” Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Kehati) program director Rony Megawanto said in a recent online public discussion.
He warned that the omnibus bill would also encourage overfishing and threaten marine biodiversity.
Not many low-educated small-scale fishermen realize the impacts the omnibus bill would have on their livelihoods in the long run, Madina said.
“Not to mention, not many of us have access to information about the omnibus bill,” he said.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry’s director general for capture fishery Zulfikar Muchtar said that under the omnibus bill, fishermen would instead be classified according to the scale of their business.
“If we run a simulation based on the scale of business, small fishermen will be on par with micro and small enterprises. These small-scale fishermen will later be exempted from certain regulations [and obligations], just like what the government is doing with micro and small enterprises,” Zulfikar said.
He promised to look into the issue and map the needs of small-scale fishermen, who make up around 90 percent of fisherfolk in Indonesia.
According to ministry data, there are 572,270 fishing boats in the country, 506,720 of which are boats smaller than 5 GT, 43,696 between 5 and 10 GT, 17,121 between 10 and 30 GT, and 4,734 are big boats with over 30 GT.
Zulfikar said any adjustments favoring traditional fishermen could be followed up by implementing new government regulations (PP) after the omnibus bill was passed into law.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo has encouraged fishermen to apply for loans at the Public Service Agency for Marine and Fisheries Capital Management (BLU-LPMUKP).
“Let's make use of the BLU loan which offers an interest rate of only 3 percent,” Edhy said during a recent virtual public audience with the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen Association (KNTI).