Basten Gokkon, Jakarta – Indonesia has once again enforced a full ban on the use of a group of seine and trawl nets that threaten the sustainability of the country's fish stocks.
The Indonesian fisheries ministry issued a new decree at the end of June that excludes several seine and trawl nets from being operated in the country's waters. These are locally known as dogol and cantrang, midwater trawl nets (pukat ikan), and bottom otter trawl nets (pukat hela dasar).
"This issue has become a global concern," Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, the fisheries minister, said in a July 27 webinar. "If we keep allowing cantrang fishing to continue, we can prove that the Java Sea has been overfished and its coral reefs have been destroyed."
The fisheries sector in Indonesia, the world's largest archipelagic country, plays an important role in supporting national and global food security. The country's waters support some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the world, and the fisheries industry employs about 12 million Indonesians. The country is the second-largest fish producer in the world, behind only China.
The ban on these seines and trawls was initially imposed in 2015 by then-minister Susi Pudjiastuti. These devices are highly effective for catching large amounts of fish, but also extremely non-discriminative. A 2010 study by the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) showed that nearly 50% of cantrang catches were bycatch and discards.
But the ban was hugely unpopular among fishing communities on the north coast of Java, Indonesia's most populous island, a region known as Pantura. These fishers have traditionally used cantrang in the Java Sea, and they historically represent a sizeable voting bloc, making the cantrang ban a loaded political issue. In response, the fisheries ministry exempted the Pantura fishers from the ban and gave them a three-year grace period to give up their cantrang nets.
In late 2019 and early 2020, the Pantura fishers were enlisted as an unofficial navy, sent by the government to fish with their cantrang nets in the waters around the Natuna Islands between Sumatra and Borneo. The move was meant to establish a heavy Indonesian presence there to counter incursions into the area by Chinese fishing boats; while China hasn't explicitly laid claim to the Natuna waters, its controversial "nine-dash line" includes the area, which is acknowledged by the rest of the world as Indonesian waters. But the stunt also sparked tensions between the Java cantrang fishers and local artisanal fishers.
In November 2020, the ban was lifted altogether by Susi's successor, Edhy Prabowo, who said these nets were needed to boost catches and in turn attract greater investment in Indonesia's marine capture fishery. About a week after lifting the ban, Edhy was arrested on corruption charges in a separate case, and was later replaced by the current minister, Trenggono.
With the latest development, Trenggono has completely banned the use of these seine and trawl nets across the archipelago. "If they don't stop, then we will have to force them to stop because [cantrang] destroys the environment," he said.
Trenggono added his office is encouraging cantrang fishers operating with boats smaller than 30 gross tonnage to switch to either using less destructive fishing gear, or working in fish farming instead.