DIGITAL ARTICLE | COMMENTARIES by: Maria Margaretha Widhia Putri

Illegal fishing is a problem for countries with vast seas and abundant maritime resources – mostly archipelagic nations such as Indonesia. According to the Presidential communications team (Tim Komunikasi Presiden), two thirds of Indonesia’s territory is covered by the sea. As a result many actors desire Indonesia’s maritime richness by fair means or foul.

Illegal fishing in Indonesia has hindered economic growth and is a threat to its security. President Joko Widodo said illegal fishing costs the nation $20 billion every year, and has also damaged its underwater ecosystem. Around 65 percent of Indonesia’s coral reefs are in danger due to chemical waste from illegal fishers. As a result, many fish cannot live in the polluted waters and end up dead, and inedible for humans.

Government efforts

During the opening of the International Fishery Crime Symposium in Yogyakarta, 2016, President Joko said that he perceived illegal fishing as a transnational crime as it also aids illicit drug smuggling and human trafficking. This impacts Indonesia’s national security as terrorists could enter the country on unknown foreign ships. To that end, the president moved to protect Indonesia’s territorial waters and marine resources by establishing and enforcing the law pertaining to illegal fishing. This law enforcement is delivered by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in coordination with the Ministry of Defense.

Susi Pudjiastuti, the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, told Kompas that the most effective means to counter illegal fishing was sinking foreign ships fishing illegally in Indonesia’s territorial waters. She also said that this had taken into consideration concerns about the environment – the preservation of marine resources and the underwater ecosystem.

Under President Joko, the government has endeavored to develop its maritime roadmap, especially in sensitive areas often used by foreign ships. Susi said the government had also increased Indonesia’s security at sea by providing ship registration, port control, sea patrols, licensing, monitoring systems, the law, and developing multilateral cooperation.

Susi said her ministry enforces the law in protecting Indonesia’s marine resources and ensuring its national security through coordinating with other ministries and institutions, such as the Marine Security Agency (Bakamla), the Ministry of Defense (to prepare naval forces), the national police, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Justice (pertaining to law enforcement and human rights). A number of regular patrols have been executed, which indicates Indonesia’s assertiveness in ensuring its maritime security, and to enforce the law and bring those conducting illegal fishing to justice.

With regard to monitoring systems, Indonesia has developed its radar with a vessel monitoring system (VMS) in sensitive points used by foreign ships. President Joko also ordered that VMS transmitters be placed on every ship weighing above 30 gross tons, and added to the number of sea patrols. The utilization of the Integrated Maritime Surveillance System (IMSS), funded by the United States, has been maximized to monitor areas such as the Malacca Strait and the Sulawesi Sea. The IMSS helps the operations of the Indonesian navy, especially in patrolling areas near the Malacca Strait (Sabang, Batam, and Riau Islands) as a lot of trading ships pass through the strait.

In 2014, the maritime ministry documented a number of interceptions captured by the maritime radar, with 39 ships committing illegal fishing, and 13 were noted to be foreign ships. From the end of 2014 until the beginning of March 2015, the ministry captured 36 illegal ships passing through Indonesia’s territorial waters, of which 13 belonged to foreign countries. As of now, there have been 363 illegal foreign ships captured and sunk. This has been done to create a deterrent effect on illegal foreign fishers and show Indonesia’s assertiveness toward illegal fishing. As a result, Kompas reported that Indonesian fishermen rarely see foreign ships that try to catch fish in Indonesian waters.

Indonesia’s efforts to counter illegal fishing have also impacted economic growth. DetikFinance reported that fish stocks, which plummeted drastically due to illegal exploitation by both domestic and foreign actors, have increased 106.2 percent. The establishment and enforcement of the transshipment policy does not allow the actors committing illegal fishing in Indonesia’s territory to easily move their wares. This has influenced the trade of fish between Thailand and the Philippines as both have been accused of fishing in Indonesia’s territorial waters. The export of fish between Thailand and the Philippines, Kompas reported, has fallen due to being caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters during a sea patrol. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s export of fish has increased drastically, especially for tuna.

In light of this, efforts to counter illegal fishing under President Joko can be considered successful compared to previous periods, with positive results in government efforts to maintain Indonesia’s maritime security.

Critics of ship sinking policy

The sinking ships policy has raised much debate. Unlike President Joko, who praised Susi’s determination in protecting Indonesia’s territory and marine resources, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Luhut Pandjaitan, the Coordinating Minister for Marine Affairs, argue that the sinking policy must end. Luhut said it was better to focus on increasing fish production instead of sinking more ships. Vice President Kalla also argued compellingly, saying that it could affect Indonesia’s relations with other countries. He said there had been protests regarding the sinking ships policy from other countries, but he did not name them.

Differences of opinions do occur between ministers during the implementation of policy, but it frustrated President Joko that they argued publicly. Both Luhut and Vice President Kalla said the sinkings were not in line with the constitutional law. Susi responded by telling them to tell that to the president, and provide better alternatives to address illegal fishing. She also said that there was nothing wrong with sinking ships committing illegal fishing since it was regulated within Constitutional Law No. 45/2009 about Fisheries.

Article 69 (1) of the Law, says that “in implementing the function according to verse (1), fishery investigator and/or supervisor are allowed to burn or sink foreign ships based on ample evidence.” The act of sinking ships is basically in line with the law and Susi has simply been implementing it, regardless of her critics.

Every policy is made based on the status quo and to prevent possible threats happening in the future.

“We [the ministry] only execute the decision of the court by sinking the foreign ships,” said Susi.

In other words, the act of sinking ships was not based on her own idea. The implementation might be controversial, but results show the policy has helped Indonesia in increasing fish production from 20.84 million tons to 23.51 million tons.

As VOA Indonesia reported, other countries do not disapprove of the sinking ship policy, and appreciate what Susi has done in combatting illegal fishing. This shows the policy does not harm Indonesia’s relations with other countries. Many Indonesian fishermen say they rarely find foreign fishermen crossing Indonesian waters to catch fish – they told Kompas that foreign fishermen now go further from Indonesia’s territory. With this in mind, the policy works in protecting Indonesia’s fisheries and increasing fishery products, albeit still far from the 2019 target of 40 million tons. But at least there is progress.

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