25 October 2022

Protecting our fishing ground, securing our sustainable seafood

A fisherman casts a net at sunset at Cunda estuary in Lhokseumawe, Special Region of Aceh, on July 15, 2020. (AFP/Azwar Ipank)

Margaretha Quina and Rayhan Dudayev (The Jakarta Post), October 24, 2022

In Indonesia, small-scale fishers contribute around 90 percent of the nation’s seafood, providing almost 10 percent of the protein source to the nation’s 275 million population. These data show the sustainable consumption option — locally sourced wild catch — is relatively affordable and accessible.

Indonesians take pride in their seafood, and thriving culinary scenes built around traditional recipes are growing. The market responds to people’s sentiments in keeping the sector alive. Even start-ups are trying to contribute to bridging the market with small-scale fishers, introducing smart technology and data, all in the effort to advance the economy and overall wellbeing of the fishers.

Ironically, most consumers are not familiar with the threats facing our small-scale fishers. There are 6 million people who are directly involved in small-scale fishing business in the country (Maritime and Fisheries Statistics, 2018). The small fishers are confronting a daunting challenge in their ability to catch fish: the loss of fishing grounds.

In the pursuit of rapid growth and economic development, tenurial conflicts over fishing grounds are becoming more frequent.

Protecting fishing ground has been a global best practice intended to ensure sustainable food security. The FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries explicitly acknowledge that smallscale fishers need a secure and stable access to fishing grounds. Additionally, the guidelines call for access to other resources like land that allows fishers to bring fish ashore, have a place to process fish, and, not least, have a place to live.

Most importantly, while most consumers do not realize this, Indonesia gives a special place to small-scale fishery. In 2016, the House of Representatives passed a bill that was expected to protect and empower small-scale fishers, and at the same time provide solid grounds for the government to be more aggressive in protecting their fishing grounds.

Law No. 7/2016 on Protection and Empowerment of Fishermen, Fish Farmers and Salt Farmers goes hand in hand with Coastal and Small Islands Law No. 27/2007 that was designed to enable the community — including small-scale fishing communities — to play a role in managing their coastal areas. The latter was amended by the Job Creation Law No. 11/2020.

The two legislation pieces mandate the government, particularly the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, to administer protection and empowerment programs for small-scale fishers, including programs to protect their fishing grounds.

The Indonesian Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI) and Yayasan Pesisir Lestari (YPL), with the approval of the ministry, recently conducted a study to examine how well Indonesia has achieved the goals envisioned by the two laws and how the nation can accelerate fulfilment of the vision.

While the study discovered the overall impacts of the laws are beneficial for the nation, it found that tenurial insecurity is a key barrier to equitable access to the benefits promised by the laws. Additionally, the hard work of the ministry and local governments to protect and empower fishermen and small fishers is not enough without addressing tenurial security conflicts. The failure could instead kill the progress achieved through the program.

Interestingly, the two laws explicitly link tenurial security with smallscale fishers’ protection and empowerment programs, but apparently the government has not made full use of the policy tool.

Key measures to ensure a more robust protection of smallscale fishers’ tenurial rights are consistent information updates on policy development related to community access for small-scale fishers and encouragement to participate in policymaking.

The revision of the Job Creation Law, as mandated by the Constitutional Court, should therefore accommodate this. More than that, local governments should use their discretion to design a robust information and participatory system — especially in marine spatial plan (MSP) development — that fits the needs of the fishers.

At the very least, the government should enhance the knowledge of fishers about their fishing grounds and listen to their wishes when developing MSP. Additionally, using the fishers’ own language, “more time and space for small-scale fishers to participate” is crucial in ensuring meaningful participation, and that may mean facilitating various pre-consultation sessions where the fishers are most comfortable. Going the extra mile for the ministry would be to promulgate a discretionary preferential access for smallscale fishers.

Additionally, echoing the maritime affairs and fisheries minister’s remarks during the launch of the study on small-scale fishers’ protection and coastal management recently, it is essential to involve small-scale fishers as a subject of marine governance, in line with the Constitution, and laws on fisheries, coastal and small islands management.

The co-governance needs to be regulated in implementing regulations at national and provincial levels so the collaborative marine governance in marine conservation and fisheries management areas can effectively help the government achieve its national targets.

Sustainable, locally sourced seafood from our beloved small-scale fishers has provided us protein in abundance, pride, as well as economic growth. Achieving national targets on marine management and conservation efforts, as specified in the ministry’s Blue Economy Roadmap, is inextricably linked to protecting the small fishers’ access to tenurial rights.

The commitment to protecting and empowering small-scale fishers has become a priority in every government’s policy. It is now up to us, the consumers, taxpayers and voters, to play an active role in facilitating the transformation.


The writers are co-authors of the report, “Fishermen and Ocean Justice: A Study on the Implementation of the Fishermen Empowerment Law and the Coastal Management Law in Seven Locations” jointly conducted by the Indonesian Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI) and Yayasan Pesisir Lestari (YPL). The views expressed are their own.

This article was published in thejakartapost. com with the title “Protecting our fishing ground, securing our sustainable seafood”.

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