President Joko Widodo’s administration has clamped down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by publicly blowing up and sinking vessels used by crew members who are found guilty of poaching fish in Indonesian waters.
The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has destroyed more than 380 vessels from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and other countries since 2015, including the Nigerian-flagged Viking, which had been on Interpol’s wanted list for poaching protected species in Antarctic waters.
But the Cabinet is now divided on whether to continue the policy. Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan have urged Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, whose ministry is tasked with executing the policy, to put an end to it.
“The ship-sinking measure was necessary at the start as a shock therapy to let people know that we can be tough,” Pandjaitan said on Tuesday. “But we don’t need to do that anymore. We can’t have shock therapy forever.”
The policy has irked the vessels’ countries of origin, mainly China and those in Southeast Asia.
“The government has to remain consistent in enforcing the law,” Agusdin Pulungan, head of the Indonesian Agriculture and Fishing Societies, told Arab News on Friday.
“Fishing communities across the country have felt the positive impact of the policy and saw an increase in their catches.”
Pandjaitan said boats confiscated from crew members awaiting conviction could be given to fishermen who do not have vessels.
“Now that we have confiscated the vessels… why don’t we let our fishermen use them?” asked Pandjaitan.
Abdul Halim, executive director of the Jakarta-based Center of Maritime Studies for Humanities, said it is legally possible to turn confiscated vessels into state assets and auction them to fishing communities.
“The government has to ensure that whoever buys the vessels has never been implicated in crimes related to the fisheries industry,” he told Arab News.
Widodo on Wednesday said he supports the destruction of vessels used in poaching, and has instructed Pudjiastuti to focus on revitalizing the fisheries processing industry and exports.
The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry on Thursday said exports of fisheries products had increased from $3.78 billion in 2016 to $4.09 billion in 2017.
Pudjiastuti said the policy of sinking vessels used in poaching over the past three years was a mandate of the fisheries law.
“The president instructed me to carry out the law, and more than 90 percent of the ships sunk were implicated in poaching convictions, so they had to be destroyed since they were not merely evidence but they were also part of the crime,” she said.
Indonesia suffers up to $20 billion in losses annually from illegal fishing in its waters, according to World Bank data.