Indonesia and many other countries are facing high levels of illegal fishing, costing them around 25 percent of potential yearly revenue in the sector. Indonesia and Australia have initiated a regional plan of action with nine other countries to tackle the problem. The Jakarta Post’s Irawaty Wardany talked to Purwanto, secretary of the directorate general for monitoring and control at the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry. Purwanto chaired the Indonesian delegation at a workshop on the plan to promote responsible fishing practices, including combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, in Bali. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Question: How did the regional plan of action to combat illegal fishing come about?
Answer: It was based on our concerns about the condition of fishery resources and the rampant illegal fishing in Indonesia’s territory. Such acts have decreased fishery resources at home and the people’s welfare as well.
Indonesia’s fishery resources are migrating and crossing borders to other countries’ territory. Therefore, we will need regional cooperation to cope with this problem. That is why we came up with the idea to make a regional plan of action and asked Australia to join in initiating the plan. Finally, there are nine other countries that agreed to take part in the plan as well.
Why Australia? The most important area of concern, coincidentally, is the Arafuru Sea, which sits between Indonesia and Australia. We have already had an intensive discussion about illegal fishing in Arafuru with Australia.
Indonesia and Australia have been cooperating in the fishery sector since 1974, but in the past the cooperation only covered traditional fishing rights on Ashmore Island. We realized later it was not the only problem we had.
We then invited other countries to discuss the plan. Finally, fishery ministers from 11 countries agreed to make a regional plan of action in a ministerial meeting in Bali last May.
Since that meeting, we have continued with preparations. We conducted our first meeting in Malaysia last year to determine what our priorities are and what has to be implemented first.
In the following meeting in Bangkok, also last year, we elaborated on what we would need to make the regional plan of action and what steps needed to be made. At the Bangkok meeting, we all agreed we needed to develop monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS), which are necessary in dealing with fishery resource preservation and poaching. We further discussed MCS at the Bali workshop.
What are the results of this workshop?
We agreed to create an MCS system in three areas: national, sub-regional and regional. We also agreed to form an MCS network, as well as build our capacity to implement the MCS system and the management of fishery resources. These will all be discussed further at the meeting in Manila soon.
What will be covered in the capacity building agreement?
Not only illegal fishing, but also how to preserve fishery resources. In terms of capacity building, we will cover research, management and MCS. One of the components of MCS is surveillance. Plans for surveillance will be developed further in the Manila meeting.
Besides Australia, which other countries are cooperating with Indonesia?
We have cooperation in Malindo (Malaysian-Indonesian Maritime Operation Planning Team). Even though the operation is basically between the Marines only, we have been involved in it for three years.
We also cooperated with the Philippines in 2004 to conduct a study in poaching problems for both countries, since the Sulawesi Sea borders Indonesia and the Philippines. Regions prone to poaching are the Arafuru Sea, South China Sea and Sulawesi Sea.
What is the level of losses we suffer from illegal fishing?
There are seven main elements to our losses: gas subsidies, fishery tax, decreasing resources, working field, added value from fishery processing and vessel maintenance. Actually, there are many others as well.
I once calculated losses just from gas subsidies, fishery tax and resources, and they reached from Rp 1 billion (US$108,696) to Rp 4 billion per ship annually. That is only considering those three factors. If we calculate all losses, the figure would be higher.
How can foreign ships easily gain gas subsidies? Is it because they can get permits from the fishery ministry?
It is not that we easily issue licenses. They’ll always find a way to get a license no matter how good or bad our system is. They can always find loopholes and change their flags. Our ministry can issue a license if they have certification determining whether the ship can use the Indonesian flag. The certificate is issued by the Transportation Ministry. That’s one way they easily enter our waters.
How many surveillance ships does your ministry have?
We have 21 ships, which must cover two thirds of our 5.8 million square-kilometer archipelago. We lack surveillance forces. We have estimated we will need 70 vessels to cover all our seas. But the problem is not to do with surveillance vessels. It is a matter of our operation pattern.
We are prioritizing areas prone to illegal fishing like the South China Sea, Arafuru Sea and Sulawesi Sea. That does not mean we are neglecting other areas; it’s just a way to optimize our limited capacity.
Even though we only have 21 vessels, we have significantly decreased the amount of illegal fishing in Indonesia’s region from 44 percent of vessels in 2004 to only 8.3 percent in 2007.
Is the decreasing number of poaching vessels due to good surveillance or increased awareness?
Surveillance and law enforcement activities are aimed at improving awareness. We are not only conducting surveillance operations but we are also campaigning and educating people to obey existing laws.