Susi Pudjiastuti is not only fighting illegal fishing in Indonesia. She is also urging the rest of the world to promote maritime rights in a bid to generate international support to eliminate transnational fisheries crimes. By Yanto Soegiarto
Susi Pudjiastuti has it all. She stands atop ministerial approval ratings. She is praised both at home and abroad for fighting the illegal fishing that has robbed the country of billions. In Japan, she has become a popular comic star. She braved a helicopter emergency landing on a football field in Temanggung, Central Java and walked out as if nothing had happened.
In recent photo appearances, she stands on a kayak, dances on the deck of a vessel and reminds the world that she has a gentle side, playing in the water with her grandson.
She has been seen on warships wearing a commander’s cap, blowing up illegal foreign vessels, stealing headlines. She won’t compromise whether the vessels come from China, Vietnam or Malaysia. “Illegal fishing has to stop. In the past, the sea used to be our backyard but now the sea is our future,” she told activists in Washington DC.
In August, she paid a courtesy call on her Japanese counterpart Ken Saito to ask that Indonesian fisheries products entering Japan be exempted from import duties to benefit both Indonesian and Japanese business. Japan has already implemented zero tariffs on fisheries products from other Southeast Asian countries.
The Japanese minister acknowledged that many imports of fisheries products from Thailand or the Philippines originate from Indonesia. “On the import duties, there must be G-to-G cooperation. I support better cooperation between Indonesia and Japan,” Saito was quoted as saying by this magazine’s sister publication, Investor Daily.
Susi claims that Indonesia has been victorious in its battle to maximize benefit from the maritime and fisheries sector. “Our fish stocks have increased and so have fishermen’s earnings. But the greatest victory of all is foreigners may no longer enter the fishing sector after President Joko Widodo issued Presidential Decree no 44 in 2016,” Susi said.
“Our fish stocks have increased and so have fishermen’s earnings. But the greatest victory of all is foreigners may no longer enter the fishing sector.”
Susi, well known for her Susi Air airline, has also provided solutions for small and medium industries (SMEs) in the fisheries sector which in the past had no access to financing and banking.
Also in August, she signed a cooperation agreement with PT Bank Rakyat Indonesia Tbk. (BRI) to provide banking services to fishermen in a bid to boost national production and promote welfare. “This cooperation is evidence that the government pays attention to fishermen,” said Susi.
Susi is also eyeing a partnership with Interpol to tackle illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. “We will partner with Interpol to catch poachers using fake taxpayer numbers. The ministry will not be alone in facing this challenge,” she said.
The initiative stems from the seizure of the vessel Kunlun by the Australian government. The Kunlun, which has operated under at least 10 different names and five flags since 2006, was one of three illegal fishing vessels that had been tracked down by Interpol, which facilitates international police cooperation.
Susi claims that as a result of her policies fish reserves are improving substantially. “More than 10,000 foreign fishing vessels that had been fishing illegally in our water are out from Indonesia,” she said.
The minister has been brutal in her campaign to stop illegal and unregulated fishing. Countries like Thailand and Vietnam have wilfully encouraged illegal fishing fleets to keep on tapping Indonesia’s enormous fish resource. They have only been made to stop by a ruthless stance that saw Indonesia sink 236 boats caught fishing illegally in the country’s waters last year alone. Data from the ministry showed that of these, 96 were Vietnamese and 21 were from Thailand.
The sinking of the vessels was designed to win respect for Indonesia in a global fishing community that regarded the country as an easy target because of its poor monitoring of the activity of fishing vessels in its waters and a lack of resources to do anything about infringements.
Indonesia still needs to do more to stem the activities of the fish pirates, but progress is being made. “We have sunk 317 boats since 2014, and another 191 are waiting,” Susi told the Nikkei Asian Review during her visit to Tokyo. “It is just what I have to do to tackle the problem of illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. You have to do your job, for the nation, for sovereignty.”
Her aim was to make Indonesia respected, she said. “You cannot fence 97,000 km of coastline. it is impossible. What you have to do is to build up respect and fear so that they cannot play around with our commitment,” she said.
The global battle
Apparently confident that the war against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing within Indonesian waters is heading in the right direction, Susi is now urging the rest of the world to promote maritime rights in a bid to generate international support to eliminate transnational fisheries crimes.
Ocean rights, Susi told a discussion hosted by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) in September, is a paradigm which places the ocean as a subject with rights.
“We tend to place man as the subject, and natural resources, including the sea, as the objects. This raises the tendency of exploitation of natural resources for the benefit of man. This paradigm often ignores the aspect of the sustainability of natural resources,” she said.
Susi reiterated that illegal fishing is a violation of oceans’ rights. “Transnational organized fisheries crime has been destroying our oceans, mocking sovereignty and even abusing humans as well as ocean rights for decades. The campaign to acknowledge transnational organized fisheries crime is important to support countries to fight against this criminal phenomenon,” she told the JFCC.
The move to promote ‘ocean rights’ was previously raised by Susi and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, who represented Indonesia to promote Indonesia’s commitment to combating illegal fishing at the Ocean Conference in New York in June.
The conference, hosted by the governments of Fiji and Sweden, aimed to explore and discuss ways to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, which seeks to conserve and sustain the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources. Recommendations made during the conference have been organized into a UN “Call for Action,” which was formally adopted on June 9.