Indonesian sustainable fishing pushes sails in stormy Java Sea
- Civil society activists have questioned whether a sanctioned alternative to seining would help rebuild fish stocks in Indonesian fishing grounds.
- Fishermen on the north coast of Java are struggling to adapt to the sustainability changes announced by the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries.
- Cases of conflicts between purse seine fishermen and small local fishing boats continue to be reported.
PANTURA, Indonesia – Not so long ago, Lestari Priyanto only needed a week’s sailing from his home port on the north coast of the island of Java to land a boat full of fish. Now he’s charting a course nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) to the Moluccas Islands, where he’s spending a month at sea just to make a profit.
Lestari thrived for years in waters near his home after using his savings and a loan to buy his own 10 gross ton boat. Today, at the head of a fishermen’s association in Rembang, in the central province of Java, he sees little future in this profession.
“It’s been seven months, but only two or three ships have docked,” Lestari told Mongabay near his port of Rembang in June. “I feel bad – many have become unemployed.”
Fishing captains in Java are seeing dark clouds forming even before the worst effects of climate change hit the world’s oceans. Operating costs are rising, fish are becoming increasingly scarce and the government has banned the widely used cantrangthe Indonesian term for a seine net.
Purse seine fishing uses wide nets weighted down to the seabed to scoop up large volumes of schools of fish. But the unparalleled efficiency of the seine net combined with the global expansion of industrial-scale fishing has made the practice unsustainable; around 90% of the world’s fish species are either overexploited or fully exploited.
According to Ari Purbayanto, a professor at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), much of Java’s fishing industry switched to using cantrang netting after then-President Suharto banned trawling in 1980.
The Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries said an average trawler in the 1970s was only a 5 GT boat, but today’s vessels are usually 30 GT hulks dragging nets of cantrang wider than one kilometer.
On the north coast of Java, known as Pantura, a portmanteau of Jalur Pantai Utara (Northern Coast Road), thousands of commercial fishing boats are struggling to adapt to change after the Indonesian government stopped issuing licenses to cantrang fishermen.
Fishermen based in Pantura told Mongabay that their operating costs were rising at a time when productivity was under pressure, both due to dwindling stocks and the ban on seine nets.
Still, researchers and civil society groups say reform is inevitable to protect the long-term viability of fishing grounds in the world’s largest archipelago nation.
“Keeping Indonesian fisheries alive, so that they can always be a source of income for the next generation…is paramount,” said Moh Abdi Suhufan, coordinator of Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, an NGO based in Jakarta.
In 2021, the Ministry of Fisheries banned the use of seines by large boats. The ban followed similar measures in other maritime countries like India and the Philippines.
The order follows nearly a decade of government dithering – the Fisheries Department banned cantrang in 2015, but a new minister lifted the ban in 2020. Then the current minister reinstated the ban in 2021.
DFW’s Abdi said sustained government intervention was needed to address illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing that has long undermined a crucial sector of the economy.
“If the ecosystem is damaged, will there still be fish there?” he said. “Whether [fish stocks] continue to decline, will fishermen still go to sea? Of course not.”
In 2015, then fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti announced a three-year grace period for cantrang fishermen in Java, which experts said reflected the sensitivity of the issue and the political clout of the industry. of Pantura fishing.
The government has also authorized the use of jaring tarik berkantong (JTB), an alternative to cantrang intended to help rebuild fish stocks.
But civil society activists have questioned the positive impact the JTB would have on declining fish stocks. The cantrang usually included a 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) gap in the mesh between the rows. The gap in the JTB must be at least 5 cm (2 in).
“Actually, the two are not very different,” said Parid Ridwanuddin, coastal and marine campaign manager of the Indonesian Environment Forum (Walhi), the country’s largest environmental NGO.
Fishermen report cases of conflict between smaller local boats in remote waters off the north coast of Java and larger cantrang operators moving into their territory. In April, a Pantura boat was set on fire by local fishermen in waters south of Borneo.
Walhi’s Parid said easing conflict was part of the complexity facing the fisheries ministry as it seeks to increase production while adopting sustainability measures such as a cantrang ban.
“It’s just a trick from the government to make it more palatable,” Parid said of the policy allowing fishermen to continue using the JTB net even though seining was banned. “Because if you continue to use the name cantrang, there will be a lot of protest from traditional fishermen.”
Irfan Yulianto, senior researcher at the Indonesian Fisheries Resource Center (FCRI), an NGO, said the lack of detailed and up-to-date data on Indonesian fish stocks had hampered policy-making.
For example, the Department of Fisheries records 10 times more fishing capacity than the number recorded by the Department of Transport.
“What needs to be done is to develop a recovery policy for all groups of fish species in all [fishing zones]”, Parid said.
Activists and local fishermen have also raised practical concerns over a policy requiring fishermen to land their catch at a local port. For example, fish caught in area WPP718 in the remote Arafura Sea in eastern Indonesia would be required to land locally. But Parid pointed to recent cases of forced labor at sea and a lack of coastal infrastructure in the regions.
“How does it work, whether the fish storage area is ready or not, that also needs to be prepared,” Parid said.
Pantura fishermen like Lestari have salt water as their blood. As a young man, he first worked in an anchovy packing factory before joining his father’s boat as a deckhand. Lestari saved up to buy his own boat and set out on his own. He has spent the last 30 years at sea.
“With the disembarkation of ships unloading goods, friends who used to work can no longer set sail,” Lestari said. “Are these issues also a consideration for the government?
Banner image: Loading and unloading activities at the Tegalsari fishing port in Tegal, a town on the north coast of Central Java. Image by Asad Asnawi for Mongabay.
This story was reported by the Indonesian team at Mongabay and first published in a seven-part series published here, here, here, here, here, here and here on our indonesian site in July and August 2022.