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Indonesias Explosive Response to

Illegal Fishing Could Be Saving the

Michelle Toh
Sep 19, 2016
Its not easy to forget the image of boats being blown up at seaand thats how
the Indonesian government wants it, if its hardline approach to illegal fishing
is to mean anything.
Fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti defended the policy of blowing up seized
fishing boats in an interview with Bloomberg published Monday, saying
defense of the territory has started to show results, bringing down overfishing
and raising the prospect of a normalized fishing industry within the next two
to three years.
Its the new normal: one that strikes a dramatic departure in the countrys
history of tussling with foreign boats that entered its waterssometimes with
armed guards from their home nationsand collected billions in annual
revenue that should have gone to Indonesia, according to World Bank
No longer. Since the end of 2014, Pudjiastutis administration has destroyed as
many as 220 trespassing foreign boats, according to Bloomberg, some of
which were coordinated to go down simultaneously and even captured on live-
We catch them and we sink them, said Pudjiastuti. Thats the new rule, the
national consensus.
The minister framed the fiery seizures as a necessary boost to the economy as
other sectors fall behind, saying, Fisheries is the only one growing [as] mining
is going down, everything is going down. Among Pudjiastutis other new
initiatives were the restrictions of commercial fishing areas and the ban of
transshipment at sea, The Guardian reported.
As a particularly triumphant explosion made headlines in March, Pudjiastuti
warned that no one would be exempt from the crackdown. This is to serve as a
deterrent to others. You may go freely in the rest of the world, but once
entering Indonesia, this is the consequence, she said. If there is an illegal
fishing boat from America, we will also sink it.
See also: Indonesia Finance Minister Warns Tax Dodgers: Join Amnesty or
Face 'Hell'
Tough talk aside, Indonesian officials have been careful to emphasize that their
determination is not an armed territorial expansion.
Some of the risk in our region nowadays is precisely the risk of misperception,
miscalculation, minor incidents becoming bigger crises, the countrys former
foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, told Bloomberg last month. "The region
as a whole should not lose the habit of open dialogue and diplomatic
While Pudjiastuti acknowledged a strain with China over the seizure of its
fishing boats, I dont think theres any problem with the relationship,
she said.
The U.S., too, is proving an important partner for Indonesias efforts, with
USAID in December pledging $33 million over five years to help protect the
archipelagos fishing industry and marine resources.
While the crackdown has been cheered by many Indonesians, critics have also
expressed concern that the high-profile explosions could have led to the
leaking of pollutants in the water, such as hydraulic fluid, oil, lead paint, or
asbestos, according to The Washington Post.
Saving Indonesias fisheries Plenty more fish in the sea?
The government tries to preserve a fecund part of the coral triangle

From the print edition | Asia

HE LEARNED to fish the turquoise-coloured seas of the Alor
archipelago in eastern Indonesia from his father. But it is not a vocation
Samsul Osman wants for his own four children. He says that these days
traditional fishermen like himself must paddle their outrigger canoes far
out to sea for a catch of skipjack tuna that sells for about 60,000 rupiah
(about $5). Sometimes his family goes hungry. The other fishermen
sitting cross-legged on the white sand at Alila Timur, where traders come
to buy tuna to sell at the markets of Kalabahi, the islands sleepy capital,
nod their heads. Fish stocks are dwindling.

Alor is at the centre of the coral triangle, 6m square kilometres of the

most biodiverse oceans on earth. These waters contain two-thirds of the
worlds coral species, and twice the number of species of reef fish found
anywhere else (more than 3,000). New species are still being discovered
by scientists in Indonesia, such as, recently, H emiscyllium Halmahera, a
walking shark. But climate change and warming oceans, overfishing
and destructive fishing practices, along with pollution from coastal
communities and industries, threaten the fragile ecosystems that support
underwater life, as well as millions of traditional fishermen like Mr

Yet, besides the huge intrinsic value of the oceans to the planet, there is a
compelling economic case for conserving them. Indonesias seas are
vitally important for its own food security, and for the livelihoods of the
60m people that live close to its 95,000km (59,000-mile) coastline.
Indonesias fisheries ministry wants to boost fish production to 20m
tonnes in 2014, an increase of 14% over 2013. Fisheries exports, mostly
to America, Asia and Europe, are a growing source of foreign exchange,
worth $3.9 billion in 2012.

Such commercial pressures mean that simply telling governments to

restrict fishing does not work. According to Lida Pet-Soede of the WWF,
a conservation NGO, governments are more susceptible to the economic
case for conservation: that fisheries will be sustainable only if big parts
of the ocean are protected. And some do seem to be listening. In 2007
Indonesias president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, asked the leaders of
the five other coral-triangle countries (Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the
Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste) to join a regional
conservation initiative. Two years later they agreed on an action plan
to manage their resources by, among other things, establishing marine
protected areas (MPAs). The initiative has financial support from the
American and Australian governments and from multilateral donors,
such as the Asian Development Bank.

So far Indonesia itself has established MPAs covering some 16m

hectares (see map). By 2020 it plans to increase protected areas to 20m
hectares, or about 10% of its total waters, covering a range of coastal
and marine ecosystems, from deep waters and coral reefs to the
mangroves and seagrasses where fish spawn. This is only a small step
towards the 30% of the worlds oceans that scientists say must be
protected to forestall a collapse in fisheries. But the protection of even
10% of Indonesias waters would be a big achievement.

The trouble is that Indonesias MPAs often seem to exist only on paper.
A recent study by the World Resources Institute, a think-tank in
Washington, rated only three of Indonesias 170-odd MPAs as
effective. Sometimes the designs are flawed, with too few restrictions
on fisheries. But more often the rules are flouted.

Moreover, the problems with Indonesias MPAs frequently originate far

inland. Widespread deforestation of watersheds, for example, has
increased the run-off of sediments and nutrients that impede coral
growth by suffocating reefs or making them overgrown with algae.
Sickly, stunted reefs are more vulnerable to ocean acidification and coral
bleaching linked to carbon emissions and global warming.

Alor unto itself

Simeon Thobias Pally, Alors elected leader, approved a 400,083-hectare

MPA in 2009. Sites are set aside as no-take zones so that fish can
reproduce and their numbers recover. But frequent changes in personnel
and turf wars between the national and local governments, as well as
between the fisheries and forestry ministries, have all hampered
implementation. Rahmin Amahala, the head of fisheries in Alor, hopes
that the formal launch of the MPA, which has long been stalled, will
mean more resources, which are sorely needed. At present the coastal
police force has only two speedboatsand one of them is broken.
Without patrols, it is impossible to catch the fishermen who are
responsible for the illegal blast-fishing that has razed many of the
islands coral reefs, let alone to enforce rules on sea zoning and fishing

As the traders at Alila Timur cart off buckets brimming with freshly
caught tuna, Mr Osman and his fellow fishermen are venting their
frustration. They say they are grateful for the fish here, and understand
that fish must reproduce so that stocks are replenished. But it is
becoming harder to make a living as more boats arrive from already
denuded waters to the west. We cannot hide our anger any longer, says