IUU crackdown opening doors for smaller Asian countries

Published on
September 16, 2015

In the wake of Indonesia’s sinking of illegal foreign fishing boats in its waters, other Southeast Asian nations are bringing in stricter enforcement of fishing laws to boost the market share of local seafood firms. It’s a move that looks set to increase competition for export behemoths such as China and Vietnam, while also helping to open markets for high-value species.

The Indonesian government’s newly strict enforcement of its fisheries law is “really good for the local companies,” said an official from the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, which brought several Indonesian companies to show their wares at the recent Seafood Expo Asia in Hong Kong. Indonesia has plenty of fishery resources and drew a lot of interest for its fish from buyers in China, India and Dubai at the show, explained the official.

Adding value to its seafood is as important as protection, however, and the Jakarta-based official now wants his government to take action to modernize as well as protect the fisheries sector. “The government wants to protect our resources. But we also need government to teach and promote local companies in how to compete with other countries. We look at the potential and we know we have the [fish] resources. But we lack technology and knowledge of seafood exporting and processing.”

Indonesian fishery companies welcome stricter governance of the country’s seas. “There was a lot of illegal fishing in the waters and the new government now is trying to promote the maritime industry and end illegal fishing,” explained Andres Simanjaya, head of sardine and skipjack yellowfin specialists PT Munchar, a firm fishing the Bali strait that was at the Hong Kong show to seek new export markets.  

Enforcing its fishing laws and promoting aquaculture are two priorities of the Philippines according to Amor Diaz, head of marketing at the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources at the country’s ministry for fisheries.

Price competitiveness is the biggest challenge for Filipino fisheries trying to compete in the global marketplace, explained Diaz, speaking to SeafoodSource at the Hong Kong expo. By that she means the huge economies of scale and polished export machines of larger producers in the region, including China and Vietnam. But the Philippines can outdo its competitors in terms of quality, claimed Diaz. “In quality we are number one,” she said.

Ultimately however while it seeks to give itself a quality-based niche to compete against the might of China’s export machine the Philippines also seeks to cash in on Chinese demand. While the country’s key export commodities are tuna, shrimp and high-value live fish such as grouper, pompano and snapper, the Philippines wants to grow its shipments of niche species like abalone, sea urchin, oysters and sea cucumbers – all of which are in demand in China in particular.

Successful enforcement of fishing rules and more sustainable use of its fisheries would also give the Philippines a competitive edge with species such as eels, mud crabs, lobster and grouper – all on display at the expo in Hong Kong. “Protection of spawning periods and of endangered species are priorities for the Philippines,” said Diaz.

The Philippines faced a lockout of the European market recently until it complied with EU requirements for transparency in reporting of illegal fishing in its waters. Meanwhile Indonesia hopes that expanding the variety of its exports and markets will also help diversify from a large vannamei farming sector: “This year the [shrimp] price isn’t good,” said the official.

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