Curbs on illegal fishing deliver 'amazing' results

Some legal fishermen's catches have doubled: Indonesian minister

Police officers near the wreckage of illegal fishing boats blown up by Indonesian authorities in Kuala Langsa, Aceh province, earlier this month.
Police officers near the wreckage of illegal fishing boats blown up by Indonesian authorities in Kuala Langsa, Aceh province, earlier this month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tough policies to curb poaching in Indonesia's waters have helped double the catch of some legal fishermen, said Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti.

"It has been amazing," said Ms Susi in a revealing interview out in The Jakarta Post yesterday.

"In some fishing zones in eastern Indonesia and many areas prone to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, local fishermen's catches have jumped by more than 200 per cent."

She now plans to roll out a programme to revitalise the fisheries industry that will see the government "give away" almost 3,500 vessels to local fishermen by the end of the year and allocate 1.6 trillion rupiah (S$165 million) to support fish farms in the country.

An additional 1.8 trillion rupiah will also be set aside to improve the quality of fishery products, as well as the marketing and supply chain management in the industry.

"All that aims to improve our fishing sector," said the entrepreneur- turned-politician.

Ms Susi, who according to an independent poll last year is Indonesia's most popular minister, has had to defend her tough policies against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, in recent weeks.

Since taking office in 2014, she has ordered the sinking of some 170 vessels caught poaching in Indonesia and impounded 700 others.

She said investigations of IUU fishing cases are now completed within weeks instead of months, thanks to Satgas 115, a unit made up of officials from the Attorney- General's Office, police and navy.

"We no longer have to wait for months of trials," she said.

"In the past three months, we have sunk far more vessels than in the same period last year because of the faster procedures, with the trials handled by the task force...

"If the perpetrators of IUU fishing are not affiliated with any legal entity, we will sink them immediately."

Her ban on allowing fishermen to unload their catch directly to other ships has been unpopular with many large fishery conglomerates.

Both local and foreign fishing boats used to unload their catch without returning to docks or ports for possible audits, but Ms Susi said such practices are "illegal anywhere, because ships won't dock in bays and ports anymore if it continues to be allowed".

"If we allow transshipment, then there's no need to build ports," she said.

"What's the use? The practice will allow foreign vessels to avoid tax and customs clearance."

Without revealing the size of the current Satgas 115 fleet, which patrols the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Indonesia, Ms Susi said she plans to add four more patrol boats.

"But that's not enough, there should be around 300 ships patrolling the whole (Indonesian) archipelago."

Ms Susi had made headlines recently for standing up to the actions of a Chinese coast guard vessel that intervened in a poaching incident involving a fishing boat from China in the Natunas last month.

She had also led Indonesia's assertion that it would not relinquish its sovereign rights to its EEZ in the South China Sea last month.

"China believes it to be a historical traditional fishing zone, which we don't recognise," she said.

Despite Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung stating after a meeting with Chinese officials on Wednesday that Indonesia's latest spat with China was a misunderstanding, Ms Susi says the incident will remain an IUU incident and handled as such.

"There's no way China is defending the practice of IUU fishing, they should have respected us as well," she said.

When asked if she is feeling the heat from foreign governments, she replied: "No pressure at all... I think what we do actually inspires many other countries... now everyone understands that big countries cannot bully small countries anymore.

"That's the point and I don't think my policies disturb any bilateral relationships (because) there's no way IUU fishing is a part of a good bilateral relationship."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Curbs on illegal fishing deliver 'amazing' results'. Subscribe