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Indonesia eyes enrolling more ports in fight against illegal fishing

  • Only four of Indonesia’s nearly 2,500 ports implement the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), an international treaty that targets illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by denying access to vessels engaged in that practice.
  • With neighboring Thailand having 26 ports that implement PSMA, the Indonesian government says it’s considering expanding coverage to more of its ports.
  • The PSMA is part of a set of tools to improve fisheries transparency and traceability, which in turn would increase global trust in fish products coming from Indonesia, one of the world’s top producers of seafood.
  • Indonesia’s estimated fish stock is 12 million metric tons, down almost 4% from 2017, while 53% of its fisheries management zones are considered “fully exploited,” up from 44% in 2017.

JAKARTA — The Indonesian government is considering applying an international treaty to fight illegal fishing at more ports across the country, to gain better oversight of the all-important fishing industry.

Indonesia is a signatory to the 2009 Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), the first binding international treaty to specifically target illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by stopping vessels engaging in the practices from accessing ports. But despite being the world’s largest archipelagic country and one of the top seafood producers, Indonesia has only implemented the PSMA at four ports. That’s far fewer than in Thailand, where 26 ports implement those measures.

The Indonesian ports that implement them are the three Samudra fisheries ports in Muara Baru, Jakarta; Bitung, North Sulawesi; and Bungus, West Sumatra; and the commercial port of Benoa in Bali.

“We should be having more,” Tri Aris Wibowo, the fisheries port director at the fisheries ministry, said at a press conference in Jakarta on May 16. “I think we at the fisheries ministry which oversees the fisheries ports must build a partnership with the public ports to implement the principles of the PSMA on the fishing vessels that dock at those public ports.”

The Samudra fisheries port in Bitung, North Sulawesi province. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands and has 2,459 ports, all of which will be subjected to new “green port” standards being introduced by the government. The country also occupies a key maritime position, straddling the Indian and Pacific oceans, and is home to the Malacca, Sunda and Lombok straits, which together are plied by more than 200,000 cargo ships every year.

Tri said partnerships between his ministry and the public ports, which are under the transportation ministry’s authority, must have a legal framework. “Ideally we should be applying those measures to the fish products that arrive at those ports. We need this partnership with other ports to ensure whether or not the fish is legal. We are thinking in that direction.”

Tri added the PSMA is part of a set of tools to improve transparency and traceability, which in turn would increase global trust in fish products coming from Indonesia. “We understand that acceptance from the international markets isn’t only regarding fish health, but also the traceability of its source — how the fish is caught, what the gear is, whether or not it’s legal, and whether or not it’s eco-friendly,” he said.

Some 600 million people depend on marine resources and ecosystems for their livelihoods, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, but a third of global fisheries are overfished. In Indonesia, the fisheries ministry puts the country’s estimated fish stock at 12 million metric tons, down almost 4% from the last estimate of 12.5 million metric tons in 2017. The data also show that 53% of the country’s 11 fisheries management zones, known as WPPs, were now deemed “fully exploited,” up from 44% in 2017, indicating that more stringent monitoring is required.

“Sustainable capture fisheries and sustainable aquaculture have great potential to feed and nourish the world’s growing population and the increasing demand for healthy aquatic foods,” FAO director-general Qu Dongyu said in a statement.

“The PSMA can support the transformation of sustainable fisheries worldwide,” he said, adding that parties need to boost collective efforts to create truly sustainable fisheries.

The Samudra Nizam Zachman fisheries port in Muara Baru, Jakarta. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

Global fisheries and aquaculture production rose by around 3% since 2018, to an all-time high of 214 million metric tons in 2020, with a first-sale value of around $406 billion, according to an FAO report released in June 2022 at the U.N. Ocean Conference in Lisbon. The growth was driven by a 6% rise in aquaculture production, while wild fish capture dropped by almost 4.5%.

Indonesia was one of the first signatories of the PSMA, back in November 2009, but only ratified it in June 2016. In early May this year, Indonesia hosted a meeting of the PSMA parties in Bali, where they agreed on a package of deals to strengthen efforts to combat IUU fishing. These include using the Global Information Exchange System, a digital platform developed by the FAO, to share information such as inspection reports and actions taken against foreign fishing vessels engaged in IUU fishing.

“We need streamlined information exchange and digitalization for the PSMA to effectively combat IUU fishing,” Matthew Camilleri, senior fishery officer and head of the Fisheries Global and Regional Processes Team in the FAO’s fisheries and aquaculture division, said in a statement.

Indonesia is considering putting more of its nearly 2,500 ports under Port State Measures Agreement management to tackle illegal fishing. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment.

Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @bgokkon.

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