Indonesia's curb on illegal fishing hurts its own fishermen

Indonesia's curb on illegal fishing hurts its own fishermen

Indonesia's crackdown on illegal fishing by foreign boats has badly affected local fishermen, who yesterday complained about a new restriction on transfering their catch at sea to bigger vessels with cold storage facilities.

The government recently imposed this restriction to prevent these larger vessels from sailing away to sell the catch abroad.

Ten fishermen associations told a news conference yesterday that traditional fishermen with their small boats cannot afford to take their catch to the ports on their own due to long sailing distances.

They said the trans-shipment of the fish by vessels operated by the same management company is unavoidable and more efficient.

"For tuna, our fishing vessels travel at least 161km off South Java island. We use separate vessels to regularly transport our catch to the port, while the fishing vessels typically go home only once a year for servicing," said Mr Rendra Purdiansa, secretary of the Indonesian Pursein Fishermen's Association.

Its members in Java own 231 vessels - many of them built in foreign shipyards. A fishing company normally has three types of vessels: those to catch fish, logistics boats that store fuel and have cold storage facilities, and others to transport the fish to ports.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo is taking a strong stance against foreign illegal fishing, sinking three Vietnamese fishing boats last week, and detaining eight from China.

The government had said on Sunday that 22 boats from China were detained. But the local fishermen's complaints show the complexity of the issue in the vast archipelago of 17,000 islands, as the government's move to curb illegal fishing has caused hardship to the very fishermen it wants to protect.

Indonesian fishing vessels rake in about US$4 billion (S$5.3 billion) from selling five million tonnes of fish a year.

Mr Yussuf Solilchien, chairman of the Indonesian Fishermen Association (HNSI), said the government should not generalise that all foreign-built vessels are illegal, as many of his association's members use these boats with valid operating permits.

HNSI and nine other associations asked the government to expedite the verification process.

"We are talking about supplies of fish for the domestic as well as export markets, and hundreds of thousands of crew jobs being in jeopardy, not to mention snack-making home industries that rely on the supply of fish," said Mr Yussuf.

The associations also urged the government to review a new total ban on the use of cold storage-equipped vessels that transport fish to ports.

"The government should use VMS (Vessel Monitoring System) to detect if any vessel taking fish from another vessel in Indonesian waters moves out of the country," said Mr Edi Yuwono, chairman of the Indonesian Tuna Association.

This article was first published on Dec 12, 2014.
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