An Indonesian navy soldier stands before the Chinese trawler 'Hua Li-8' in Belawan, North Sumatra, which was detained for allegedly operating illegally in Indonesian waters in 2016. Photo: AFP/Abimata Hasibuan

The catch has expanded dramatically, the fish are bigger and new canneries have sprung up all around Indonesia, all apparent signs of a hale and hearty fisheries industry.

But Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti continues to fight a constant battle since she banned foreign trawlers from Indonesian waters in arguably one of the most notable achievements of Joko Widodo’s first term as president.

In an interview with Asia Times, Pudjiastuti said she believes up to 80% of the nation’s catch is still exported illegally or offloaded on to foreign, often Chinese-owned, mother ships outside its 200-mile economic exclusion zone (EEZ) – a transshipment practice she wants declared an international crime.

Moreover, she says only a quarter of the estimated 3,000 new 100-200 tonne fishing boats built locally in the past three years have been properly registered; the rest are painted the same color and carry duplicate names to avoid paying taxes.

There is big money involved for the 100 or so Indonesian businessmen involved, of whom about 20 own 4,500 of the 7,600 registered boats above 30 tonnes, according to the minister. Annual profits, she says, range from US$1-2 million for 30-100 tonne vessels, and $2-4 million for those in the 100-200 tonne capacity.

The result: many of the Indonesian businessmen who previously engaged in flawed joint ventures with Chinese, Thai and other large regional fishing companies to plunder their country’s maritime resources are now finding ways to do it independently.

Workers unload yellowfin tuna at a port in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, April 4, 2019. Photo: AFP/Chaideer Mahyuddin

Despite all that, the fisheries sector’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) has risen from 7.3% to 7.9% in the past three years, growing by 5.7% per year and making Indonesia into the world’s second-biggest producer of fisheries and aquaculture, according to the 2018 European Union Fish Market Report.

Five years after the ban’s enforcement, Indonesia is now the largest producer of tuna, representing 16% of the world total, half of which is exported to the US in the form of frozen whole fish and fillets. It is a lucrative market that has grown by 130% since 2014.

After suffering through difficult early years of the ban due to a lack of fish, the North Sulawesi fishing port of Bitung, for example, is now home to 47 canneries from just a handful a few years ago, processing a large percentage of the 76,700 tonnes of canned tuna Indonesia exported in 2017.

Pudjiastuti, a 54-year-old rags-to-riches entrepreneur who parlayed her West Java seafood processing business into the world’s largest small-plane airline, says Indonesian fishermen are now catching 80-kilogram tuna, almost twice the size of several years ago.

The Chinese have predictably sought to undercut Indonesia’s actions by using satellite systems that detect water density and direct fishing fleets to biomass concentrations of mainly tuna and tuna-like species before they reach Indonesian waters.

Satellite imagery shows nearly 4,000 fishing boats and support craft around Micronesia in the Western Pacific at any one time, about 85% of them from China and Taiwan. It is a picture that raises concerns about sustainability in nearby Indonesia.

“[Pudjiastuti’s] policies have been very effective,” says one maritime analyst who tracks the movement of China’s vast fishing fleet in the Western Pacific. “They (the Chinese) are now trying to get everything before it gets into Indonesian waters.”

Indonesian Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has overseen the demolition of foreign fishing boats caught poaching in Indonesian waters. Photo: NurPhoto via AFP Forum/Donal Husni

Chinese vessels often turn off their transponders or change the Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) international maritime regulations require of every ship over 100 tonnes.

There are other ploys as well. On one recent day, a vessel purportedly registered in land-locked Afghanistan showed up in the midst of a Chinese fleet.

While Beijing uses its fishermen – and accompanying Coastguard and militia patrol craft – as part of its forward deployment, Indonesia is taking a leaf out of its book by adapting similar tactics in the southern reaches of the South China Sea, which China claims as part of its traditional fishing grounds.

Pudjiastuti says there are now 600 Indonesian fishing boats operating out of the Natuna islands, Indonesia’s northernmost territory, where the government is building a cold storage and fish processing facility and temporary accommodations for fishermen.

With navy vessels regularly patrolling what Indonesia has renamed as the North Natuna Sea, there are plans to deploy a tanker to refuel the fishing fleet, acquire small surveillance drones and also to extend the runway on Natuna Besar, the chain’s main island.

Chinese trawlers have generally steered clear of Indonesian waters in the past 18 months, but it is well known Pudjiastuti and chief maritime minister Luhut Panjaitan don’t get on for reasons which underline Indonesia’s many internal difficulties in dealing with China.

She remains single-minded and stubborn towards the Chinese and their fishing practices. He oversees many Chinese-funded projects in Indonesia, including the long-delayed $6 billion Jakarta-Bandung fast railway that now seems to be making some headway.

Pudjiastuti has also made enemies abroad by persisting in her policy of sinking foreign fishing boats seized poaching in Indonesian waters after learning that local surrogates of the owners were paying only $50,000 at auction to get them back.

The demolition and sinking of a pirate fishing ship by the Indonesian Navy at the Pangandaran Sea, West Java. Photo: NurPhoto via AFP/ Donal Husni

Earlier in May, the Fisheries Ministry sank 51 more impounded boats, bringing the total number of those destroyed to more than 500 since the fishing ban was enforced as part of Widodo’s tough new maritime policy.

Among the latest batch to be scuttled were 38 Vietnamese-flagged vessels; in recent months, the Vietnamese coast guard has been involved in four incidents with Indonesian patrol craft inside the EEZ, leading Hanoi to issue a diplomatic protest.

A video of the latest incident circulated on social media showed a Vietnamese vessel ramming the side of an Indonesian corvette, one of several acquired from the old East German navy in the early 1990s, while rifle-toting Indonesian sailors shouted abuse.

Indonesia is the first country in the world to make public real-time data on the location of all vessels in its waters, employing the Automated Identification System and Italian-developed imagery to create an overview across three times zones stretching from Aceh to Papua.

Most of the focus of the Fisheries Ministry and separate systems used by the navy and police is on key waterways, such as the Malacca, Sunda and Lombok straits, the Natuna islands and the Makassar Strait and further east to Papua, where the navy is forming a third fleet based out of the old oil port of Sorong.

Sometimes the Indonesians have been caught by surprise. In a little-known incident in April 2018, a navy fast patrol craft intercepted the Chinese satellite tracking ship Yuan Wan 7 after it veered out of an international shipping lane off of the northeast island of Sulawesi.

Informed sources say the navy’s attention was drawn to the way the 21,000-tonne vessel was making erratic maneuvers inconsistent with a normal transit. No radio contact was made between the two vessels and the Yuan Wang swiftly reversed course and headed north into international waters.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

1133 Comments

  1. Admiring the time and energy you put into your website and detailed information you present. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  2. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100 sure. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Cheers

  3. Thank you for every other informative site. Where else may just I get that type of info written in such an ideal means? I’ve a venture that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such information.

  4. Hiya, I am really glad I’ve found this info. Today bloggers publish only about gossips and internet and this is really annoying. A good site with interesting content, that is what I need. Thank you for keeping this web site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

  5. I actually wanted to type a small message so as to appreciate you for some of the precious information you are giving at this website. My time intensive internet search has finally been rewarded with useful points to talk about with my close friends. I would assert that most of us website visitors actually are quite blessed to live in a great place with many outstanding professionals with good basics. I feel extremely blessed to have encountered your website page and look forward to plenty of more exciting minutes reading here. Thanks a lot once more for everything.

  6. I cling on to listening to the rumor talk about getting boundless online grant applications so I have been looking around for the finest site to get one. Could you advise me please, where could i get some?

  7. After study a few of the blog posts on your website now, and I truly like your way of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Pls check out my web site as well and let me know what you think.

  8. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read something like this before. So nice to seek out any individual with some unique thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for beginning this up. this website is something that’s needed on the net, someone with slightly originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!

  9. Hello there. I discovered your website by way of Google whilst searching for a comparable subject, your website came up. It appears to be good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks to come back then.

  10. I’ve been browsing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

  11. I was more than happy to find this internet-site.I needed to thanks for your time for this excellent learn!! I undoubtedly having fun with every little little bit of it and I’ve you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you blog post.

  12. I was suggested this web site through my cousin. I’m no longer sure whether or not this submit is written by means of him as nobody else know such distinctive approximately my problem. You are incredible! Thank you!

  13. I will immediately grab your rss as I can not find your email subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please let me know in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  14. Hello there, simply became aware of your blog via Google, and found that it is really informative. I am going to watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate in the event you proceed this in future. Many people will probably be benefited out of your writing. Cheers!

  15. Hi! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics? Appreciate it!

  16. I’m really impressed together with your writing talents and also with the layout to your blog. Is that this a paid subject or did you customize it yourself? Anyway stay up the nice high quality writing, it is rare to look a nice weblog like this one nowadays..

  17. My wife and i were now contented that Raymond could deal with his studies with the precious recommendations he was given through the weblog. It’s not at all simplistic to just possibly be offering information many others could have been trying to sell. And we remember we have got the writer to appreciate because of that. The entire illustrations you have made, the simple blog menu, the friendships you will aid to instill – it’s got all great, and it is leading our son in addition to us recognize that that topic is exciting, and that’s really mandatory. Thanks for all the pieces!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *