Indonesia gets Google's help to fight illegal fishing

JAKARTA • Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti deals with some dangerous men in her role, but they do not rattle her. She has an equally intimidating weapon on her side: Google.

By partnering the search engine, Ms Susi is catching illegal fishing activity in real time, after thousands of vessels' locations were revealed online. In her mission to clean up an industry once the domain of crooks, she has convinced powerful local operators with foreign interests to stop practices that were robbing the economy of billions of dollars of revenue each year.

"You have money, you have power, you have the reach, probably to make me fail or to even basically eliminate me," Ms Susi recalls telling the industry's so-called "godfathers" in meetings shortly after joining President Joko Widodo's government in 2014. "But I also will not stop."

After hunting down violators and blowing up their boats in public spectacles, Ms Susi's approach has become more sophisticated.

In a global first, the minister has teamed up with Google to use satellites to spot illegal fishermen from space. It is paying off: Indonesia's fish stocks have more than doubled in two years, and an industry that has been plundered by foreigners for decades is once again contributing to economic growth.

In a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, the potential is vast.

While fishing currently accounts for 2.6 per cent of Indonesia's gross domestic product, that portion has grown by about 40 per cent since Ms Susi took over her portfolio.

At that time, there were some 10,000 foreign vessels fishing illegally in Indonesia's territory. She says they are now all but gone.

But it is not game over for the minister. She says local boats are still working with "global pirates" who catch fish just outside the permitted zone, which are then shipped to foreign destinations. And that is where Google comes in.

"They still steal from us. We see it on Google's Global Fishing Watch," Ms Susi said. "They use Indonesian-affiliated companies and businesses, and basically take their catch a few miles beyond the exclusive economic zone, where a refrigerated mothership is waiting."

Last year, Indonesia became the first nation to share its Vessel Monitoring System information - government-owned data used to monitor maritime traffic - with Global Fishing Watch, an online mapping platform co-founded by Google and funded by partners such as the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 22, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesia gets Google's help to fight illegal fishing'. Print Edition | Subscribe