- The Indonesian government plans to lift a ban on the use of seine and trawl nets, which marine conservationists and scientists have blamed for overfishing and damage to coastal reef ecosystems.
- The fisheries ministry says the move is expected to boost catches and thereby attract greater investment in the fisheries sector.
- Conservationists have panned the proposed lifting of the ban, calling it a step backward in efforts to develop a sustainable fisheries industry in the country.
- They have called instead for the fisheries ministry to focus on efforts to promote the use of sustainable fishing gear, empower small-scale fishers, and combat illegal fishing practices.
JAKARTA — Indonesia plans to lift a ban on the use of seine and trawl nets, which were outlawed under the country’s previous fisheries minister for threatening the sustainability of the country’s fish stocks.
The ministry, led by Edhy Prabowo, said earlier this week a revision to the 2016 ban would allow fishers to once again use two-boat purse seine net (known locally as pukat cincin), one-boat seine nets (payang), Danish seine nets (cantrang), and shrimp bottom trawl nets (pukat hela dasar udang). Edhie, who took office last year, has argued for the use of these nets to boost catches and in turn attract greater investment in Indonesia’s marine capture fishery, the world’s second biggest.
“Certainly, there will be national standards applied, including environmentally friendly standards. We’ll also be able to control the use through regulations, quota and monitoring,” Trian Yunanda, the director of fish resources management at the ministry, said in a public discussion June 9.
Edhie’s predecessor, Susi Pudjiastuti, banned the use of these types of nets because of their high potential for overexploitation, bycatch and damage to the marine ecosystem. Her decision was largely praised abroad by marine scientists and conservation biologists, but was opposed domestically by fishers, particularly those operating in the Pantura region off northern Java, who had invested heavily in the gear. Susi eventually allowed an exemption for these fishers to keep using cantrang while gradually transitioning to more sustainable fishing nets by February 2020.
With the lifting of the ban, however, fishers will be free to go back to using seine and trawl nets.
Conservationists have slammed the decision, calling it a step backward in efforts to develop a sustainable fishing sector in the country.
“The ‘new’ direction of this policy is certainly a step back. Legalizing fishing gear that has been banned poses an alarming threat to the sustainability of fish stocks in the ocean,” Arifsyah Nasution, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told Mongabay in an interview.
Seines and trawls are highly effective equipment for sweeping up large amounts of fish, but they are known to be extremely non-discriminative. A 2010 study by the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) showed that nearly 50% of cantrang catches were bycatch and discards.
A 2015 survey by the fisheries ministry found that many cantrang boat operators had marked down their size. This practice alone is estimated to have cost the country as much as 10.44 trillion rupiah ($878 million) in lost revenue.
“The government, in this case the fisheries ministry, is currently putting the future of a healthy fish stock and marine ecosystem in Indonesia on the line,” Arifsyah said.
The use of cantrang is a politically contentious issue in Indonesia. By far the biggest users of this type of net are the Pantura fishers, who represent a significant voting bloc. The fishers and their supporters say the nets aren’t as destructive as others make them out to be because fishers use them further away from coastal reefs. But critics say many fishers typically modify the nets to work like a bottom trawl, and that they deploy them near the coast.
Critics of the rollback have suggested it was made under pressure from the companies that own and operate large fishing boats. While these fleets account for a small percentage of catch volume compared to the millions of small-scale fishers throughout Indonesia, they carry heavy political clout.
“They’ve got connections to political parties, business associations, parliament and other government institutions, such as the coordinating ministry of maritime affairs,” Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, national coordinator of the NGO Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, told Mongabay.
Abdi added these owners and operators of large vessels stood to benefit the most from the resumption of seine and trawl fishing. He said his organization had not been asked by the fisheries ministry to consult on the reversal of the ban.
“This plan is one of the many inconsistencies from the fisheries ministry in managing the country’s fish resources,” Abdi said.
Experts say allowing the use of seine and trawl nets once again will exacerbate tensions between large-scale fishers and their more poorly equipped small-scale counterparts. There’s already a long-running hostility between the two because many of the larger vessels operate close to the coast, competing directly for fishing grounds with small and traditional fishers.
“This is a gateway for IUU fishing practices and exploitation of marine and fisheries resources in Indonesia,” said Susan Herawati, secretary-general of the NGO Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), referring to the practice of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. “The impact is clear: small-scale and traditional fishers will lose their maritime space.”
Experts have called on the fisheries ministry not to push through with lifting the ban, and instead focus on efforts to promote the use of sustainable fishing gears, empower small-scale fishers, and combat IUU fishing practices.
“If the fisheries ministry is no longer siding with traditional and small-scale fishers, then it’s better to disband the ministry altogether,” Susan said.
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