24 October 2022

(Opinion) Protecting Our Fishing Grounds

Fishing Boat in Bulutui, West Likupang, North Minahasa. Credit: Annisa Yusha/IOJI

By Margaretha Quina dan Rayhan Dudayev

Published on The Jakarta Post on Monday, October 24, 2022


Fishermen in small-scale operations contribute about 90 percent of the national marine harvest. They provide nearly 10 percent of the total protein source for Indonesia’s 275 million population.

These figures highlight the sustainable consumption choice—locally sourced catch—relatively affordable and accessible. Indonesians take pride in their seafood, and the rapidly evolving culinary scene preserves traditional recipes.

The market responds to public sentiment in order to sustain the sector. Even start-up companies are attempting to bridge the gap between small-scale fishermen and the market. They are introducing intelligent technology and data systems to advance the overall economy and welfare of fishermen.

Ironically, most consumers are unaware of the challenges faced by our small-scale fishermen.

Around 6 million people are directly involved in small-scale fisheries in Indonesia (Marine and Fisheries Statistics, 2018). These small-scale fishermen encounter daunting challenges in their livelihoods, particularly the loss of fishing grounds.

In pursuit of rapid economic growth and development, conflicts over fishing grounds have become more frequent.

Protecting fishing grounds has become a global best practice to ensure sustainable food security. The FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries explicitly acknowledge that small-scale fishermen need safe and stable access to fishing areas.

Moreover, these guidelines encourage access to other resources such as landing sites, processing facilities, and at the very least, a place to live.

While most consumers are unaware of these conditions, Indonesia has designated a special place for small-scale fisheries. In 2016, the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR) passed a bill aimed at protecting and empowering small-scale fishermen.

Upon its enactment, Law No. 7 of 2016 concerning the Protection and Empowerment of Fishermen, Fish Farmers, and Salt Farmers, went hand in hand with Law No. 27 of 2007 concerning Coastal and Small Islands Management, which empowered communities in coastal management.

The Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI) and the Yayasan Pesisir Lestari (YPL), with the approval of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, recently examined how well Indonesia has achieved the goals envisioned by these two laws.

The study by these two organizations found that the overall impact of these laws is beneficial to the nation. However, there are still tenure insecurities hindering efforts to provide fair access to the benefits promised by the laws.

The hard work of ministries and other relevant authorities is not sufficient to protect and empower small-scale fishermen if it is not accompanied by efforts to address tenure security conflicts. Instead of achieving the goals, failure can undermine the progress intended.

Interestingly, both laws explicitly link tenure guarantees with programs for protecting and empowering small-scale fishermen. Nevertheless, it seems the government has not fully utilized these policy tools.

Key steps to ensure the protection of tenure rights for small-scale fishermen include consistent updates on related policy developments, strengthening access for small-scale fishermen, and encouraging their participation in policy-making.

Therefore, the revision of the Omnibus Law as mandated by the Constitutional Court should accommodate these aspects. Local governments should use their discretion to design strong information and participation systems—especially in the development of marine spatial plans—that cater to the needs of fishermen.

At the very least, the government should enhance the knowledge of fishermen about their fishing grounds and listen to their desires when developing marine spatial plans.

Moreover, providing more time and space for small-scale fishermen to participate is crucial to ensure meaningful engagement in their lives. This means the state must facilitate pre-consultation sessions that make fishermen feel safe and comfortable.

Shared governance should be regulated in national and provincial implementation regulations. By doing so, collaborative marine governance in marine conservation areas and fisheries management can effectively help the government achieve national targets.

Locally sourced and sustainable seafood from beloved small-scale fishermen has provided us with ample protein, pride, and economic growth.

Achieving national targets in marine management and conservation efforts, as outlined in the Blue Economy Roadmap, is closely related to protecting small-scale fishermen’s access to tenure rights. Commitment to protect and empower small-scale fishermen must be a priority in every government policy.

It is now up to us, as consumers, taxpayers, and voters, to actively facilitate this transformation.

*** The authors are the compilers of the report “Fishermen and Maritime Justice: Implementation Study of the Empowerment of Fishermen Law and Coastal Management Law in Seven Locations,” conducted jointly by the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI) and the Coastal Sustainable Foundation (YPL). This article represents the views of the authors.

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