2 Feb 2015

Indonesia's 'shock therapy' for illegal fishing

4:54 pm on 2 February 2015

Indonesia's new government is taking a hardline approach to illegal fishing by foreign vessels in its waters.

Since October, when President Joko Widodo - known as Jokowi - came to office, Indonesia has begun detaining foreign crews caught illegally fishing and, in some cases, exploding and sinking their boats.

Indonesia's not the only regional country cracking down.

This picture shows a Vietnamese fishing boat in flames after Indonesian Navy officers blew up the vessel due to illegal fishing activities in the remote Anambas Islands.

A Vietnamese fishing boat in flames after the Indonesian military blew it up for fishing illegally. Photo: AFP

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 $US20 billion annually due to illegal fishing, President Jokowi has 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 the Wildlife Conservation Society said illegal fishing had become a huge issue for Indonesia.

"Significant numbers of large vessels weighing over 30 gross tonnes have entered Indonesia's waters from countries in the north," Mr Campbell said.

"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 20 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 has said the vessel seizures were beginning to work as a deterrent and would be persevered with.

Several of the seizures have been in the sea around New Guinea, where Indonesia meets Papua New Guinea (PNG).

PNG is a long way back on fishery surveillance, according to the former governor of West Sepik province, which is on the border with Indonesia.

John Tekwie said illegal fishing by foreign vessels in PNG was a daily occurrence.

"With the absence of even Papua New Guinea's own surveillance boats, the navy boats, our local fishermen meet a lot of these foreign fishing vessels," he said.

"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 said this gave Palau 24/7 coverage of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"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.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs