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Plan to lift baby lobster export ban draws fire in Indonesia

  • In 2016, Indonesia’s then fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti implemented a ban on the export of baby lobsters in a bid to protect the sustainability of the creatures in the wild.
  • But now, Susi’s successor, Edhy Prabowo, is looking to lift the ban in an effort to boost the country’s economic growth from the fisheries sector.
  • Environmentalists criticized the plan, saying it would threaten the population of wild lobsters that are crucial for a healthy marine ecosystem.

JAKARTA — Environmentalists in Indonesia have lambasted the government’s plan to reopen exports of lobster larvae, saying the move will threaten the sustainability of these creatures that play a key role in a healthy marine ecosystem.

Indonesian fisheries minister Edhy Prabowo said on Dec. 16 that he might allow selling baby lobsters abroad in an effort to boost the Southeast Asian country’s economy. Edhy’s predecessor, Susi Pudjiastuti, banned exports in 2016 in an effort to protect the animal.

“There are people whose livelihoods depend on catching lobster larvae — they sell them, they get money, they live,” Edhy said in a statement. “I just want to focus on how they can get a job first.”

Lobsters are a top commodity in Indonesian fisheries sector. Image courtesy of Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

Susi’s decision to impose the ban was both praised and criticized, with some saying it would harm small businesses. The northern coast of Indonesia’s Java island is a center of lobster larvae production.

Despite the ban, Indonesia’s black market for baby lobsters has continued to thrive. In Jan-Oct 2016, authorities reported smuggling cases of 800,000 lobster larvae valued at 124.8 billion rupiah ($8.9 million). The creatures are sold to Vietnam, Singapore and China, where they can be raised and sold at much higher prices.

Edhy said Indonesia still lacked the infrastructure to cultivate baby lobsters in an aquaculture scheme. “If we don’t raise these lobster larvae, they’ll die — their survival rate in the wild is only 1%,” he said.

To keep wild populations in check, Edhy said he would implement a quota scheme for exporting baby lobsters and order lobster cultivators to release 5% of their harvest back to the wild.

“Don’t let growth be hampered only because we always hide behind the mask of environment,” Edhy said. “I also want economic growth that doesn’t damage the environment. Both must go in line together.”

The plan has received a backlash from marine observers in Indonesia who say reopening exports will lead to overfishing of the animal despite efforts to control the quota.

“Lobster larvae is a germplasm in our ocean,” Abdi Suhufan, the national coordinator of advocacy group Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, told Mongabay. “There are only five countries in the world that have lobster larvae, namely Canada, England, the United States, Indonesia and Australia.”

Susi defended her decision to ban baby lobster exports, writing in tweet that the infrastructure to raise lobsters was already available in their natural habitat, namely coral reefs and the sea floor. “That’s why we must protect coral reefs and not sell [larvae],” she said.

Susi also criticized Edhy for allowing exports despite the animal’s low survival rate in the wild.

“Lobsters are one of the natural resources that can be accessed or fished easily with a pole or trap by small-scale coastal fishers,” she said in another tweet. “The state must well protect the source of livelihood for small fishers.”

Indonesia has a thriving black market for baby lobsters. Image by Vinolia for Mongabay-Indonesia.

Some observers believe the proposal to reopen exports was influenced by business interests affiliated with foreign enterprises looking for a massive supply of the larvae.

“If they didn’t have such a huge influence, the policy to ban export of lobster seeds wouldn’t become a continuous polemic from Minister Susi to Minister Edhy,” Arifsyah Nasution, ocean campaigner at the NGO Greenpeace Indonesia, told Mongabay.

To combat the illegal trade of lobster seeds, environmentalists are calling for the government to beef up monitoring and law enforcement instead of allowing the export of the larvae.

“If the fishermen and the people are given the opportunity and support in developing a sustainable aquaculture to raise lobster seeds, this can be the solution as long as the government is serious in doing it,” Arifsyah said.

Indonesia lacks the infrastructure for cultivating lobsters in order to boost the fisheries sector. Image by Melati Kaye/Mongabay-Indonesia.

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