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Indonesia welcomes new Singapore regulation to help curb lobster smuggling

A lobster larva. Image by Fathul Rakhman/Mongabay-Indonesia.

A lobster larva. Image by Fathul Rakhman/Mongabay-Indonesia.

  • A new reexport regulation in Singapore could help stem the smuggling of lobster larvae from neighboring Indonesia.
  • The city-state is a key destination for the contraband and a transit point for lobster larvae reexported to third countries like Vietnam and China.
  • Under the new regulation, reexporters in Singapore will have to get health certificates for live animals from the country of origin, which in theory should be impossible for smugglers.
  • Indonesian authorities have cautiously welcomed the plan, but say both countries must work more closely on the long-running problem.

JAKARTA — Indonesian fisheries authorities have welcomed as “better than nothing” a new policy by neighboring Singapore that should in theory help stem the smuggling of lobster larvae out of Indonesian waters.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has since Oct. 1 required traders in the city-state who are reexporting live animals to other countries to provide a health certificate from the country where the animals originate, according to a local news report. This applies to destination countries that demand health documentation when receiving live animals from Singapore. The SFA said the rule would improve trade facilitation and apply to all live animals, including their young and eggs.

For Indonesia, the new rule is “a positive move, rather than nothing, from Singapore,” Adin Nurawaluddin, the director-general of marine and fisheries resources surveillance at the Indonesian fisheries ministry, told Mongabay in a text on Nov. 16.

Indonesia maintains a ban on the export of lobster larvae, but these continue to be smuggled out of the country in large volumes. A key destination is nearby Singapore, from where the larvae are often reexported to third countries like Vietnam and China, where they’re raised to maturity in fish farms and tanks and sold at much higher prices.

Hundreds of thousands of lobster larvae seized from a foiled smuggling attempt. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

The SFA’s new regulation comes in the wake of calls by Indonesian fisheries authorities for Singapore to boost security in the two countries’ maritime border region, not just to crack down on lobster larvae smuggling, but also tackle other forms of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Adin previously said that smugglers’ most frequent tactic to evade Indonesian coast guard patrols was to enter Singapore’s territorial waters. For its part, Singapore still permits the import of lobster larvae, not only to meet domestic demands but also for reexport.

A prominent smuggling attempt came to light in early July, when customs officers in Batam, an island less than an hour by boat from Singapore, seized a shipment of nearly 50,000 lobster larvae, of the species Panulirus ornatus and P. homarus, bound for Singapore. Authorities valued the shipment at 5.55 billion rupiah ($358,000).

In 2019, three years into Indonesia’s export ban, then-fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti criticized Singapore for continuing to allow imports of lobster larvae from Indonesia without the valid permits. Her comments came after an Indonesian court sentenced two Singapore nationals to three years in jail for smuggling lobster larvae from Jambi province, on the island of Sumatra, to Singapore and Vietnam.

Adin said that for Singapore’s stricter reexport policy to work, both governments have to actively work together to ensure the validity of every submitted health certificate, given that smugglers will likely try to forge the needed paperwork.

“From surveillance point of view, we hope this health certificate requirement by Singapore won’t only be implemented for lobster larvae coming in by sea, but also coming through the airports,” Adin added.

Adin Nurawaluddin of Indonesia’s fisheries ministry, left, and Daniel Seah of the Singapore coast guard inspect an Indonesian patrol vessel on Batam Island. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.
Lobsters and their larvae are among Indonesia’s top fisheries commodities. Image by Yogi Eka Sahputra/Mongabay Indonesia.

The fisheries ministry has beefed up security at Indonesia’s international airports and at sea. In March, it deployed four additional speedboats to patrol the waters between the Riau Islands and Singapore. The ministry said it would continue to raise awareness among fishers to discourage them from exporting lobster larvae — still banned despite a renewed effort to resume the trade. Violations are punishable by up to 16 years in prison and up to 3.5 billion rupiah ($226,000) in fines.

Lobsters are among Indonesia’s top fisheries commodities, but the illegal export of larvae and baby lobsters cost the country 900 billion rupiah ($62 million at the time) in lost revenue in 2019 alone, according to the national antimoney-laundering watchdog. Exports of lobster larvae were first banned in 2016 by then-fisheries minister Susi in an effort to conserve the declining wild population and tackle the illegal lobster market. Susi’s successor, Edhy Prabowo, lifted the ban in May 2020, but was later jailed for taking bribes in exchange for awarding export licenses to companies controlled by his cronies.

In reinstating the export ban in 2021, the new fisheries minister, Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, also laid out plans to develop the domestic lobster-farming industry to be more competitive with Vietnam’s. The ministry said it would advance aquaculture technology at lobster farms in several districts to improve the survival and productivity rates of the lobsters.

Conservationists and policymakers consider illegal exports of lobster larvae a major threat to wild populations. The fisheries ministry puts the latest estimate of potential wild lobster stock in Indonesian waters at 27 billion. But the National Commission for Fisheries Resources Research reported in 2016 that lobsters in six out of 11 officially sanctioned fishing zones were overfished, while the rest were being harvested at maximum capacity.

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

See related from this reporter:

Indonesia renews effort to resume controversial lobster larvae exports

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