The Natuna Sea is frequently visited by military ships from the United States and China, in line with tensions between the two countries in the South China Sea. This condition often prevents the government from managing living and non-living natural resources in a sustainable and equitable manner.
Indonesian waters are in a strategic position for the world’s marine biodiversity. Abundant of fish as well as being a migration route for marine mammals, “of course Indonesia’s sea is ‘attractive’ to other countries whose fishery resources continue to decline,” said former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Working Cabinet (2014-2019), Susi Pudjiastuti.
Moreover, he said, “countries like China and Vietnam have banned the use of trawlers or trawlers in their territorial waters,” Susi said later, “that’s why their fishing vessels have shifted to Indonesia.”
Conditions become complicated when foreign ships operate in Indonesian waters, which for years have been difficult to escape from disputes. The presence of these ships threatens Indonesia’s sovereign rights to fisheries and marine natural resources (sumber daya alam/SDA) in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Meanwhile, “almost 79 percent of Indonesia’s territory is sea. It’s a shame if we don’t live from the sea,” said Susi.
Susi’s reminder was revealed in the podcast “Maintaining the Security of Indonesian Seas” on February 6, 2022. The podcast specifically discusses proper management so that national waters can, in a fair and sustainable manner, always benefit the people who depend on them.
Besides Susi, the podcast hosted by Tempo Editor-in-Chief Arif Zulkifli also presented the Indonesian Ambassador to Germany who is also an expert on maritime law, Arif Havas Oegroseno, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), Mas Achmad Santosa.
In the podcast, Susi was able to tell about the sinking of foreign ships that were found to be operating in Indonesia’s EEZ. Drowning was one of Susi’s key policies when she served as Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
She took this policy because, according to Susi, “the fines tend to be light for them [foreign fishing vessels].” Once a fishing vessel is caught entering Indonesia’s EEZ, the fine is around IDR 1-2 billion. “It’s easy for them to pay, then steal [fish] again,” said Susi, who is also chairman of Pandu Laut Nusantara.
Now, the sinking of foreign fishing vessels in Indonesian territorial waters is becoming increasingly silent.
Mas Achmad said that the sinking of foreign ships in Indonesian waters was a policy that was more than just shock therapy. With a note, said the IOJI CEO, “when the system is implemented on an ongoing basis.”
For years, various mass media have continuously reported on the theft of fishery resources by foreign-flagged vessels in Indonesia’s EEZ. In northern Indonesia, for example, theft of natural resources from fisheries often occurs in the Natuna Sea.
Throughout 2021, IOJI detected hundreds of Vietnamese and Chinese foreign fishing vessels carrying out intrusions in the Natuna Sea with a high level of threat. These ships are strongly suspected of carrying out illegal fishing activities in the related area.
Not only fishing boats, but other types of ships such as geological survey ships, China Coast Guard patrol boats and Chinese military ships were also detected carrying out intrusions there.
Natuna is in the middle of the South China Sea, triggering geopolitical tensions between several Southeast Asian countries and China – and finally getting hit by United States (US) interference.
Beijing claims nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea, which it calls the “nine-dash line”. Washington rejects Beijing’s claims. The US has even sent warships into the South China Sea several times under the pretext of “freedom of navigation”.
Meanwhile in the Indian Ocean, “French and Spanish [ships] take fish [in Indonesia’s EEZ,” said Arif Havaz. According to him, this condition causes the position of small-scale fishermen to be increasingly cornered.
What’s more, “the Indonesian government has been providing subsidies to large-scale fishermen instead of small-scale fishermen,” said Arif Havaz.
Large-scale fishermen often fish in groups. When looking for fish in groups, several components of operational costs are shared. So, “actually they have been thrifty. Now we are still adding subsidies.”
Indonesia has a sea area of more than 6.4 million square kilometers. The 2020 World Fisheries and Aquaculture Position Data published by the World Food Agency or FAO stated that Indonesia’s fishery production was the third highest in the world in 2018.
That year, or the latest data published, national capture fisheries production amounted to 6.71 million tonnes. Indonesia’s position is behind China (12.68 million tons) as the first rank followed by Peru (7.15 million tons).
The threat of fish theft by foreign vessels makes local fishermen have to compete with fishermen with foreign flags to catch fish in their own sea. And we know that small-scale fishermen lose more in the competition.
Arif Havaz reminded the government to be more active in conducting surveillance to the outer limits of Indonesia’s EEZ claims. “We also have to trace where the foreign fishermen sell the fish they catch in our [Indonesia’s] EEZ,” he said.
Tracing also requires strong lobbying from the government. He hopes that “[the government] can lobby sharply to the European Union, the US or wherever foreign fishermen sell fish from Indonesia’s EEZ. Lobbying, so they don’t buy stolen fish from our seas.”
Check out the full podcast, here.