Novy Lumanauw, Ridho Syukra, Tri Listiyarini, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Tuesday threw his weight behind a controversial plan from one of his ministers to legalize lobster larvae export, an activity banned since 2016 for putting the sea creature's sustainability at risk.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo last week aired the plan to lift the ban, arguing that it would produce more income for fishermen and the government.
His predecessor Susi Pudjiastuti, who issued the export ban, took to social media to campaign against the plan and put the new minister at the center of a public outcry.
On Tuesday, the president offered his view on the matter, saying the plan had some merits to consider.
"The most important thing, in my opinion, is that [whatever happens] the government gets the benefits, the fishermen get the benefits and the environment is not damaged," Jokowi said during a visit to Kutai Kartanegara district in East Kalimantan.
"We have to weigh up the added values from exporting or not exporting [the lobster larvae]," he said.
"When we look at the environmental issue, we should also look at the economic benefits. And when we consider the economic benefits, we have to make sure we're also taking care of the environment. Maintaining the balance between the two is important," Jokowi said.
Under a 2016 ministerial decree, the government bans the catching of all lobster larvae – from spiny lobster Panulirus spp. to rock lobster Jasus spp., the most common species in Indonesia – for any purpose.
Fishermen can only catch lobsters that are not in egg-laying condition and have a carapace length of above 8 centimeters or weigh above 200 grams per animal.
900 billion reasons
Minister Edhy meanwhile has argued that the larvae export ban has sparked rampant smuggling, nullifying its goal of protecting the lobster population.
The Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) has detected between Rp 300 billion and Rp 900 billion ($21-24 million) of fund transfers from abroad allegedly used in financing the smuggling of lobster larvae in the past year, the center's head Kiagus Ahmad Badaruddin said on Friday.
"Smuggling will disrupt the sustainability of the lobster ecosystem. On the other hand, many small-scale fishermen still depend their life on the lobster trade," Edhy said, adding that he has received complaints from fishermen's associations about the export ban.
Edhy said he would invite the Fish Quarantine Agency, Fisheries Product Quality and Safety Control (BKIPM) and other stakeholders to discuss the issue.
Legendary ex-minister Susi, meanwhile, has launched a Twitter tirade against the plan to lift the ban, repeatedly stating her reasons to install it in the first place.
One of her tweets, on her personal account @susipudjiastuti, read: "Managing renewable natural resources in an instant, extractive and massive manner must be prohibited. Also, taking away germplasm, it's a NO NO!! Before 2000, [fishermen could catch] 3 tons to 5 tons of lobsters bigger than 100 grams every day in and around Pangandaran during harvest season. Now they can't even get 100 kilograms per day."
Susi's tirade received support from an unlikely source. Fadli Zon, a lawmaker and Edhy's fellow politician in the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), advised the minister to listen to his critics.
"I think the minister should consider the feedback and criticism on the lobster larvae issue. No need to get defensive, especially when it [the criticism] comes from his predecessor @susipudjiastuti, who's a true patriot. I'm sure Minister Edhy will choose the wise thing to do," Fadli said on Twitter.
Dedi Mulyadi, the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives' Commission IV overseeing agriculture, maritime affairs, fisheries, forestry and the environment, said Indonesia should resist the short-term economic benefits of exporting lobster larvae.
"Imagine, Indonesia could one day end up importing lobsters from Vietnam. They're likely to carry out genetic engineering to produce superior quality lobsters," Dedi said in a statement.
Vietnam has developed a lobster culture industry with a constant demand for larvae, usually procured from the Philippines or Indonesia. Vietnam's lobster exports have been suffering since Indonesia imposed the lobster seeds ban.