Indonesia leads explosive new wave of fisheries protection
There's a new emphasis on protecting marine resources in the Western Pacific as Indonesia perseveres with its policy of seizing and, in some cases, sinking foreign fishing vessels caught illegally fishing in its waters.
Indonesia's new government is taking a hardline approach to illegal fishing by foreign vessels in its waters.
Since President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, came to office in October, Indonesia has begun detaining foreign crews caught illegally fishing and, in some cases, exploding and sinking their boats.
As Johnny Blades reports, Indonesia's not the only regional country cracking down.
It's the frontline in a new battle - the campaign for protection of marine resources in the Western Pacific. With Jakarta estimating that Indonesia loses more than US$20 billion annually due to illegal fishing, President Jokowi introduced a so-called "shock therapy" deterrent policy which has seen hundreds of foreign vessels detained since late last year. At least half a dozen of the vessels have been sunk, several of them Vietnamese-flagged. Stuart Campbell of Wildlife Conservation Society says illegal fishing has become a huge issue for Indonesia.
STUART CAMPBELL: Significant numbers of large vessels weighing over thirty gross tonnes have entered Indonesia's waters from countries in the north: countries including Vietnam, China, Philippines, Thailand and others, they fish Indonesian waters, and they've pretty much done it without any problem over the last ten to twenty years. Only recently, since President Jokowi has been elected, has the President and his Fisheries Minister started to crack down on these fishing boats and made them illegal. And now we're seeing quite a few boats being impounded, burnt and the crews sent back to their respective countries.
While Vietnam has voiced concern about the policy, Jakarta says the vessel seizures are beginning to work as a deterrent and will be persevered with. Several of the seizures have been in the sea around New Guinea, where Indonesia meets Papua New Guinea. PNG is a long way back on fishery surveillance, according to the former Governor of West Sepik province, on the border with Indonesia. John Tekwie says illegal fishing by foreign vessels in PNG is a daily occurrence.
JOHN TEKWIE: With the absense of even Papua New Guinea's own surveillance boats, the navy boats, our local fishermen meet a lot of these foreign fishing vessels. They come right up to the border area and they meet a lot of these fishing boats all the time, also including fishermen from across Indonesia. And these are big open waters where we don't have surveillance from the Papua New Guinea side. We have no naval services there so you can't police it.
But the Western Pacific ocean is home to around two-thirds of the world's tuna fishery, and other regional countries are taking new steps to protect their waters. This week, tiny Palau joined the British/American-developed Project Eyes on the Seas monitoring system. The Palau President's spokesman, Olkeriil Kazuo, says this gives Palau 24/7 coverage of its exclusive economic zone.
OLKERIIL KAZUO: Project Eyes on the Sea is able to locate any vessel, particularly an illegal vessel, in Palau, and they monitor the vessel until it makes some suspicious activity, and are able to contact with the national patrol boat to intercept any and such vessel and bring them in.
Palau's move is timely as its EEZ is about to become a marine sanctuary where foreign commercial fishing is banned.
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