New Indonesian fisheries minister taking steps to wipe out predecessor’s controversial policies

Published on
December 24, 2019

Less than two months after taking office, new Indonesian Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo has moved quickly to challenge at least two major controversial policies of his famous predecessor, Susi Pudjiastuti, and is facing a growing backlash for his actions.

Pudjiastuti served as maritime affairs and fisheries minister through October 2019, was widely known for her hardline stance against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Pudjiastuti, who was replaced by Prabowo in late October as part of a cabinet reshuffle by Indonesia President Joko Widodo, received global coverage for ordering the country’s maritime authorities to sink more than 500 illegal fishing vessels during her time in office – an action extreme enough that a Chinese publication in 2017 labeled her as a madwoman.

Last month, the Jakarta Globe reported Prabowo is considering a halt to the policy, instead giving boats seized for illegal activity to local fishermen. Pudjiastuti’s policies, however, are credited an increase in biomass in Indonesian watersreducing the amount of IUU fishing in Indonesia, and for improving the economic outlook for local fishermen.

Business Cooperatives Forum Mina Batam Madani Chief Executive Musa Muhammad told the Jakarta Post that the former minister’s tough measures had significantly reduced the rate of illegal fishing in Indonesia.

"The ship-sinking policy is good because it gives a deterrent effect to those operating illegal fishing vessels," Musa said.

Recently, Prabowo proposed the reversal of a ban on exporting lobster larvae implemented by Pudjiastuti. Prabowo justifyed the decision by saying it would produce more income for fishermen and the government, The Jakarta Globe reported on 17 December.

In 2016, Pudjiastuti implemented the ban on catching and exporting lobster smaller than eight centimeters in length or 200 grams in weight, in a move to conserve the population. Edhy, however, argued that the ban has encouraged rampant smuggling, nullifying its goal of protecting the sustainability of the wild lobster population. 

The Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center has detected between IDR 300 billion to IDR 900 billion (USD 21.4 million to USD 64.3 million, EUR 19.3 million to EUR 57.8 million) of fund transfers from abroad allegedly used in financing the smuggling of lobster larvae in the past year, according to the center's head, Kiagus Ahmad Badaruddin.

Between January and October 2016, Indonesian authorities reportedly discovered smuggled cases of 800,000 lobster larvae valued at IDR 124.8 billion (USD 8.9 million, EUR 8 million). The seed was sold to Vietnam, Singapore, and China, where it is grown out and sold at much higher prices than Indonesian fishermen could expect for the lobsters locally, according to a report from nonprofit environmental science and conservation news organization Mongabay.

"Smuggling will disrupt the sustainability of the lobster ecosystem. On the other hand, many small-scale fishermen still depend their life on the lobster trade," Edhy said, adding that he received numerous complaints from fishermen's associations about the export ban. 

The new minister also said he would invite the Fish Quarantine Agency, Fisheries Product Quality and Safety Control and other stakeholders to discuss the issue.

For her part, Pudjiastuti took to social media to campaign against Edhy’s plan, which put the new minister at the center of a public outcry.

"Managing renewable natural resources in an instant, extractive, and massive manner must be prohibited,” she said on Twitter. “Also, taking away germplasm, it's a NO NO!! Before 2000, [fishermen could catch] 3 metric tons (MT) to 5 MT of lobsters bigger than 100 grams every day in and around Pangandaran [in West Java] during harvest season. Now they can't even get 100 kilograms per day."

The plan has also drawn criticism from marine observers in Indonesia, who said reopening exports will lead to overfishing of the species, despite efforts to control the quota, Mongabay said.

There are only five countries in the world that have lobster larvae – Canada, England, the United States, Indonesia, and Australia, the national coordinator of advocacy group Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia Abdi Suhufan told Mongabay.

But President Widodo has signaled his support for reconsideration of the ban.

"The most important thing, in my opinion, is that [whatever happens] the government gets the benefits, the fishermen get the benefits and the environment is not damaged," Jokowi said during a visit to Kutai Kartanegara district in East Kalimantan.

Edhy has not said publicly if he is considering a reversal of some of Pudjiastuti’s other policies, which include a moratorium on new licenses being granted to ex-foreign fishing vessels and a ban of at-sea transshipment in Indonesian territorial waters, which can be used as a cover for illegal exports. 

Photo courtesy of Dhodi Syailendra/Shutterstock

Reporting from Hanoi, Vietnam

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