Casting a wider net

Strengthening the integrated fishing vessels fleet in Natuna and the South China Sea

Casting a wider net AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin

The territorial violations in Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by fishing vessels from China in the waters of Natuna, Riau Islands, is homework for the Indonesian government to optimize the management of marine resources. 

The lack of Indonesian fishing vessels operating in the EEZ makes the area vulnerable to foreign ships. The EEZ is 200 nautical mile wide ocean waters measured from the country's territorial sea baseline. The state has sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage natural resources, both biological and non-biological, which are contained in water, seabed and subsoil, construction of marine structures, marine scientific research, and protection of the marine environment, according to the 1982 United Nations Convention on The Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Indonesian marine waters are divided into 11 fisheries management areas (WPP), as stipulated in Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Regulation No. 1 of 2009 concerning the Territory of the Republic of Indonesia Fisheries Management. The Natuna Sea, Karimata Strait and South China Sea are the WPP 711. Although the fishery resources are abundant, captured fisheries production in the WPP tends to be stagnant.

The average increase in captured fisheries production in the WPP is only 0.51%. In 2016-2017, the average production experienced a deficit of -1.07% (KKP: 2018). Nationally, in 2012-2016 the number of fishermen in Indonesia continued to decrease by -0.41 percent. This has become a problem in sustainable fisheries management in terms of economic, social and environmental aspects.

Fishermen in WPP 711 show other problems such as inadequate fishing boat capacity, high operational costs and a culture of "one day fishing". Some of these are common in almost all the coasts of Indonesia. The vast sea area that is not matched by the capacity and capability of fishermen causes an empty sea space easily infiltrated by unauthorized parties.

EEZ areas that cannot be reached by small-scale fishing vessels are vulnerable to vessels from other countries. In the Natuna and South China Sea waters, small fishermen operate only in areas less than 4º North Latitude (LU). Meanwhile, areas up to 6º LU are still the territory of Indonesia's EEZ. This means that there is still a lot of sea space that has not been utilized by fishermen in Natuna. This has resulted in many cases of illegal fishing and infiltration by foreign-flagged vessels in the region.

The government needs to immediately make a comprehensive and measurable study along with synergies between various parties on overcoming the problems of fisheries management in the EEZ. It should be underlined that government assistance and facilitation often does not solve problems that occur in the maritime and fisheries sector. This happens because government assistance and facilitation in various regions in the country is not based on a comprehensive and well-measured study.

Indonesia's marine biodiversity generates different fishing traits and patterns in different regions of the country. The problems faced are different and unique, even on the same island. For example, the characteristics of the shallow sea on the north coast of Java facing the Java Sea are very different from those of the deep sea on the coast of the southern part of Java that faces the Indian Ocean. Likewise the area of Java that faces the Sunda Strait and the Bali Strait. This affects the types, patterns and fishing systems of fishermen in each of these regions.

Uniforming government assistance and facilitation will cause failure in the development of the marine and fisheries sector as a whole from cultural, social, economic and environmental aspects. A comprehensive and measurable study will help resolve fisheries management problems in the EEZ, Natuna and South China Sea that have not been handled optimally. Likewise with other EEZ regions in Indonesia.

As the largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia is one of the few countries bordering two oceans which are very important for trade and the world's marine ecosystems - the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the potential of these fisheries cannot be utilized optimally for national economic growth.

At present, the number of Indonesian fishing vessels in the two oceans has dropped dramatically. Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) data as of January 2020 shows the number of Indonesian-flagged fishing vessels recorded 384 ships consisting of 285 long liners, 91 purse seiners and eight cargo freezers (IOTC: 2020). This is far from what is expected for continuous fishing with large volumes in the Indian Ocean.

In the Pacific Ocean, Indonesia faces even more serious challenges. Data from the WCPFC as of January 2020 shows only 22 Indonesian-flagged fishing vessels (13 pole and line and nine purse seiner) operating in the western and central Pacific Ocean area.

The conditions that occur in the marine and fisheries sector are a reflection of the government's development orientation to date. Synergy between the central government and the regional governments is separate homework that must be resolved immediately. Likewise, the synergy between related institutions, including the private sector and state-owned enterprises (BUMN) related to fisheries such as PT Perikanan Nusantara (PERINUS) and Perum Perikanan Indonesia (PERINDO). Synergy is needed so that the catches of fishermen in the EEZ can be handled and processed properly for distribution to various destination markets, both domestic and foreign.

Without good synergy, efforts to encourage the economic development and welfare of fishermen in coastal areas will be difficult to realize. Increasing the intensity and number of fishing boats in the EEZ will be a safety fence for Indonesia's marine areas as well as contributing to the welfare of coastal communities in the region. This is where the ability of the government is tested to compile comprehensive policies and create synergies between various parties. Hard work and smart work from the government is needed in this regard.

Andre Notohamijoyo is a Maritime Observer and holds a PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Indonesia.


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