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Indonesia to send more tuna vessels out into international waters

  • Indonesia is boosting its tuna-fishing fleet in the high seas, taking advantage of increased harvest quotas.
  • The plan is part of a five-year sustainable tuna fisheries policy update to be issued by the Indonesian fisheries ministry by the end of August.
  • In addition to the fleet expansion, the ministry also has plans to adopt a tuna-harvest strategy for the country’s waters; limit the number of operating fish aggregating devices; and reduce the carbon footprint of its vessels.
  • Indonesia is the world’s top producer and exporter of tuna.

JAKARTA — Indonesia is expanding its longline fishing fleet in the high seas as part of its plan for a world-leading sustainable tuna fishery by 2025.

The Indonesian fisheries ministry is issuing a policy update on the five-year sustainable management of the country’s top fisheries: tuna, skipjack and mackerel. A senior official said the draft includes getting more Indonesian-flagged tuna longliners to operate farther beyond the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and into international waters.

“[Fisheries in] the high seas where the big tuna are found are still dominated by nations like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan,” Trian Yunanda, the ministry’s fish resource director, said in a webinar hosted by Mongabay Indonesia on July 14. He added the new policy will be issued before the current plan ends in late August.

The expansion, Trian said, is also part of the country’s efforts to tap into the increased harvest quota granted to Indonesia by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). These include the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Inter-Atlantic Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT).

Yellowfin tuna on sale at a fish market in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

The global tuna fishery is valued at more than $40 billion annually, with Indonesia at the top of the list. The country brought in an average of more than 628,000 metric tons of the fish between 2012-2018, according to government data. Unlike other major fishing countries, such as China and South Korea, which operate industrial fleets, nearly nine-tenths of Indonesia’s fisheries output comes from traditional and small-scale fishers.

Since 2017, Indonesia has worked to high-seas tuna fleet after earlier banning foreign fishing vessels from its own waters. Data from the fisheries ministry show the number of authorized tuna vessels larger than 30 gross tonnage nearly doubled to 664 between 2017 and 2020.

Some observers have welcomed the planned expansion of the tuna fleet, but also called for the government to uphold sustainable measures, including reducing illegal and destructive practices, improving vessel data collection and monitoring, and increasing the quality of its catches.

“Besides focusing on having a larger fleet, we need to also focus on improving the quality of the tuna so we can sell it at a higher price,” Zulficar Mochtar, the former director of marine capture fisheries at the ministry, said at the same webinar.

In addition to the expansion of tuna longliners, the ministry also plans to adopt a tuna harvest strategy for the country’s waters; limit the number of operating fish aggregating devices; implement a temporary moratorium on tuna fishing in the Banda Sea to protect juveniles; and reduce the carbon footprint of its vessels. Much of the fishing grounds in the Pacific and Indian oceans, which Indonesia straddles, are already fully exploited, with many tuna species subject to overfishing.

The government is also pushing for more tuna fisheries in Indonesia to obtain sustainable certification and eco-labeling. Various schemes exist to certify that fish stocks are sustainable, environmental impacts are minimized, labor rights are respected, supply chain transparency and traceability are in place, and management is governed by best practices.

“Hopefully the new policy can improve the competitiveness of our tuna in the global market,” Trian said.

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