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Indonesia delays enforcement of widely panned fisheries policy

Mongabay - December 17, 2023

Basten Gokkon, Jakarta – The Indonesian government has postponed the enforcement of a new fisheries policy that drew little support from fishers and widespread criticism from experts and watchdogs.

The quota-based fisheries management policy, introduced in March this year, was initially scheduled for full implementation at the start of the new year, but Indonesia's fisheries ministry issued a decree dated Nov. 29 that pushed the new start date to 2025.

"Indeed, we had considered postponing the implementation to ensure everything is really well-prepared," Trian Yunanda, a senior fisheries ministry official, told reporters in Jakarta on Dec. 6.

The new strategy is aimed at maximizing state revenue from the fisheries sector. A key policy change from the previous mechanism is the introduction of quota-based capture for industrial, local and noncommercial fishers in six fishing zones that cover the archipelago's 11 fisheries management areas (FMAs).

The previous fisheries management policy allowed all fishing operators, from artisanal to industrial, to catch as much fish as they wanted as long as the total capture did not exceed a total allowable catch (TAC), capped at 80% of the estimated fish stock. The new quota system will allocate a percentage of the TAC to each category of fisher.

Those affected are industrial, local and noncommercial fishers, while small fishers are exempted from the quota. In addition, industrial fishers are not allowed to operate within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of the coast. Indonesia's fisheries ministry says this approach should help reduce pressure on fish stocks and maintain their sustainability, while also encouraging and benefiting small fishers, who make up the majority of the country's fishers.

However, the policy has received near-universal criticism from scientists and fishers to NGOs and government bodies. Much of the opposition is not only related to the poor public outreach of the policy changes, but also to concerns that it would greatly benefit large industrial fishing outfits more than small-scale fishing communities, which make up the bulk of Indonesia's fisheries sector with vessels smaller than 10 gross tonnage.

"The fundamental thing that's not been adequately prepared is the updated data on fish stocks and allowable catches. If this is not available, the big question is what is the reference for quota distribution?" Abdul Halim, executive director at the Center of Maritime Research for Humanity, told Mongabay in an interview.

The latest data released by the fisheries ministry put Indonesia's estimated fish stocks at 12 million metric tons, down almost 4% from the 12.5 million metric tons estimated in 2017. The data also show that 53% of the country's FMAs are now deemed "fully exploited," up from 44% in 2017, indicating that more stringent monitoring is required.

Abdul said another underprepared aspect of the new policy was at-sea monitoring capacity and resources. The fisheries ministry has acknowledged that compliance among fishing companies in Indonesia is low. The ministry has officially registered just 6,000 fishing permits, but the transportation ministry records some 23,000 permitted vessels.

Abdul said the decision to postpone the policy enforcement was likely related to the upcoming general election, as many Indonesian fishing communities are located in Java, the country's most populated island with a crucial number of voters. He suggested implementing a controversial policy like this could turn out unfavorably for the government.

"In short, it is obvious that it wasn't science that led the decision-making regarding the QBFM policy, but the short-term economic interests of the authorities – meeting the state revenue target ... and later political elites, hoping to gain votes in the 2024 presidential election," Abdul said.

The fisheries ministry, however, said it would use the extended time to increase efforts for public outreach, education and gaining support for the implementation of the new policy. "Hopefully, with this delay, we can sit together and then we can implement it," Trian said.

Indonesia is the world's second-biggest marine capture producer, after China, harvesting 84.4 million metric tons of seafood in 2018, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its wild capture fisheries employ around 2.7 million workers; the majority of Indonesian fishers are small-scale operators, with vessels smaller than 10 gross tonnage.

Under the business-as-usual scenario, the country's capture fisheries is projected to expand at an annual rate of 2.1% from 2012 to 2030. The country's waters support some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the world, and the general fisheries industry employs about 12 million Indonesians.

Source: https://news.mongabay.com/2023/12/indonesa-fisheries-quota-policy-sustainable-ministry-small-fishers