Indonesian Fishermen Stage Protests Against New Regulations

JANUARY 21, 2015

Jakarta. Fishermen across a number of Indonesia's regions have staged a wave of protests over the past few days against the fisheries minister’s new set of regulations imposing restrictions on the fish they can legally catch.

Citing the need for sustainable and responsible fishing, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti recently issued a regulation banning the use of trawls and seine nets to catch fish in Indonesian waters.

Susi earlier this month announced new restrictions for catching lobster and crab.

The regulation details that only lobsters more than eight centimeters in length, crabs measuring more than 15 centimeters and flower crabs longer than 10 centimeters can be caught; and none carrying eggs can be caught.

Fishermen also protested the minister’s plan to soon limit fuel subsidies to fishing boats of less than 30 GT (gross tonnage).

On Monday, hundreds of fishermen in the Central Java town of Tegal staged a rally in front of the local maritime and fisheries office.

The chairman of the Tegal Fishermen’s Association, Eko Susanto, argued that some 80 percent of fishermen across the northern coastal region of Central Java still used Danish seines; so the ban, without an alternative solution, would effectively snuff out their livelihoods.

On Tuesday, the deputy speaker of the Tegal City Council, Wasmad Edi Susilo, said his office would send a letter to Susi to voice the fishermen’s objection.

“Minister Susi should have listened to the fishermen’s aspirations before drawing up the regulations,” Edi told Indonesian news portal Tempo.co.

Also on Tuesday, dozens of fishermen from Grajagan Beach in Banyuwangi, in the neighboring province of East Java, took to the streets to burn fishing nets and dump lobsters, in protest at the catch limits for lobsters and crabs.

They argued that the new regulation would leave hundreds of fishermen in the area without a livelihood.

“I can’t sell lobsters. I’ve suffered Rp 23 million [$1,840] in losses already these past couple of days,” lobster trader Supariyanto told Metrotvnews.com. “This regulation is harming the little people like us. I think Minister Susi is completely aware that lobsters in the waters off southern Java are less than eight centimeters in size. Don’t say otherwise.”

Supariyanto added he had been a lobster trader since 1987, and that most lobsters he had gotten from local fishermen were three centimeter long and weighed around 70 grams. Those are of export quality, he added.

As a compromise, he suggested that Susi ban the trade in lobsters weighing less than 100 grams.

Local fishermen, he promised, will support the government’s sustainability programs, but warned than catching lobsters weighing 300 grams or more, as the new rule implies, would be very difficult.

Fishermen also staged a protest against the new regulations in Batang, another Central Java town; Indramayu, West Java; Tabanan, Bali; and Bima, West Nusa Tenggara.

On Wednesday, members of the Traditional Fishermen’s Union visited the House of Representatives in Jakarta to complain about the regulations.

“Minister Susi doesn’t understand that fishermen are very much troubled by the fish size catch limits,” the union chairman, Kajidin, told reporters after a hearing with legislators from House Commission IV, which oversees agriculture, forestry and fisheries. “We reported [to the legislators] how concerned we are. It is difficult already to find something to eat from our fish catch, let alone with these kinds of rules.”

Kajidin also criticized the fuel subsidy limitation, saying many fishing boats measuring more than 30 GT employed low-income fishermen.

He said the new rule would cause hundreds of such boats to stop operating, depriving many poor fishermen of employment.

The head of the Tabanan office of the Indonesian Fishermen’s Association (HSNI), Ketut Arsana, also spoke out against the new rules.

“All of us across Tabanan can’t catch lobsters now. We’ll die as a result,” Arsana said. “If the ministerial regulation is not revoked, we will block access to Bali. Let the world see that we fishermen have a right [to earn a livelihood].”

A spokesman for the United Fishermen’s Front, Bambang, called on President Joko Widodo to remove Susi from her position, arguing that although some of her policies had won plaudits from the public, many of them were afflicting fishermen.

“These policies really affect our livelihoods, and they are ugly,” he said.

“We deeply regret having to say this, but we call on Mr. President to replace the minister,” Bambang told the hearing with House legislators. “We have asked her to have a dialogue with us, but she’s allocated none of her time for that.”

Susi defended her new policies earlier in the week, saying they were meant to ensure sustainable fishing, which would benefit fishermen over the long term.

She cited fishermen in West Nusa Tenggara who commonly caught lobsters and crabs weighing between 20 and 50 grams each, or around 40 lobsters per kilogram, usually for export to Vietnam.

“Usually 40 lobsters weight a kilo; imagine how many dozens of kilos they will weigh [if caught only when they are at least 300 grams each],” Susi said in Jakarta, according to Republika.co.id.

The same benefits apply to refraining from catching lobsters and crabs carrying eggs, she said.

If fishermen are willing to wait longer before a haul, eventually they will have more lobsters or crabs to catch from the hatching eggs.

Susi added that the bans were necessary because Indonesian fishermen had become overly dependent on unsustainable fishing methods, including the rampant use of trawls, purse seines and even fish bombs.

She also said she had continued to disseminate information concerning the new regulations to make get local fishing communities to accept and abide by them.

Legislator Ono Surono of President Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said Susi must put more thought into the new regulations, considering the fishing communities were among the most vulnerable members of Indonesia’s societies.

Citing 2011 data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), Ono said nearly eight million Indonesian fishermen and their families lived under the poverty line, representing roughly a quarter of Indonesia’s poor households.

“We estimate that [...] between 25,000 and 80,000 people will be unemployed, from the 1,200 to 4,000 fishing boats affected by [the fuel subsidy restriction] alone,” said Ono, also the head of the West Java chapter of the HSNI.

Observers have called on the government to provide and support fishermen with alternative solutions if enforcement of the new regulations goes ahead.

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