Marine conservationists in Indonesia say neither of the two candidates running in this year’s presidential election has shown any real commitment to boosting the sustainability of one of the world’s largest ocean fisheries.
President Joko Widodo is seeking re-election in next month’s vote after coming to office in 2014 on a promise to fulfill Indonesia’s potential as a maritime powerhouse. His rival, Prabowo Subianto, has similarly made resource nationalism, including of fisheries and other marine industries, a cornerstone of his platform.
But observers have criticized both men over their lack of stated policies for improving the sector to achieve sustainable fisheries and oceans in Indonesia.
“In 2014, the campaign to shift our focus back to the ocean was widely espoused. But where are we on that this year?” said Chalid Muhammad, an adviser to the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen’s Union (KNTI).
Both Widodo and Prabowo have published vision and mission statements ahead of the April 17 vote, but Chalid said these were short on substance when it came to the issues of fisheries and marine management, including empowerment of fishing communities, protection of coastal communities from the impacts of climate change, and resolving land conflicts arising from coastal development projects.
In their latest in a series of scheduled presidential debates, both Widodo and Prabowo failed last month to describe their top priorities for sustainable development of the country’s coastal and small islands, said Arifsyah Nasution, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia.
“Protecting ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs wasn’t mentioned at all,” Arifsyah said.
Greenpeace also noted that tackling marine plastic pollution, a global crisis for the world’s oceans and to which Indonesia is a major contributor — second only to China — wasn’t raised by either candidate at the debate. The group has called on the candidates to describe a plan to curb the overconsumption of plastics, particularly single-use packaging, from the production end of the problem.
“We need a concrete step to save our land and ocean from plastic waste invasion,” Leonard Simanjuntak, head of Greenpeace Indonesia, said in a statement.
One area where the Widodo administration has made a splash is in tackling illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. Under a high-profile campaign spearheaded by Susi Pudjiastuti, the fisheries minister, the government has seized and sunk nearly 500 illegal foreign fishing vessels caught in Indonesian waters since 2014.
Widodo brought this up at the Feb. 17 debate, which centered on environmental and natural resource issues, saying he was committed to seeing local fishermen benefit from Indonesia’s rich marine resources.
The country recorded 22.3 million metric tons of fisheries production in 2015, the Widodo administration’s first full year in office, up 1.5 million metric tons from the previous year. In 2016, the figure increased again. The fisheries sector has long been important to the food security of the archipelagic nation, with most of Indonesia’s more than 260 million inhabitants living in coastal areas. The country straddles the Pacific and Indian oceans, and hosts large parts of the Coral Triangle, a region with the highest coral and reef fish diversity in the world.
But Widodo’s commitment to building Indonesia into a “global maritime fulcrum” also includes plans to exploit offshore oil deposits. “This is what we continue to push so that our oil deposits can benefit the state by way of income, by generating a lot of revenue for the state,” he said at the debate.
Greenpeace’s Arifsyah said any further exploration of offshore oil fields must be done carefully to prevent damage to marine and coastal biodiversity and ecosystems. He also called for a shift toward greater use of renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.
“It’s time for our government to stop depending on fossil fuels to supply and sustain our energy needs,” he said.
Besides issues at sea, Indonesians living in coastal regions and small islands also have to deal with land conflicts arising from development plans that include land reclamation projects, mining, and coastal tourism programs.
“Neither of the two candidates has a plan to protect and empower the livelihoods of more than 12 million fishing households who live in 12,000 coastal villages in Indonesia,” said Susan Herawati, secretary general of the local NGO People’s Coalition for Justice in Fisheries (Kiara).
Land reclamation projects are underway or planned in 42 locations, and involve the creation of nearly 800 square kilometers (310 square miles) of new land from sand dredged from the seabed, according to Kiara. These projects threaten more than 740,000 fishing households, the group says. Tourism developments in coastal areas have also shown minimal benefits for fishing communities, the group says.
“There’s going to be a serious impact if reclamation and tourism projects continue, and that’s the extinction of maritime life in Indonesia,” Susan said.
Chalid of the KNTI said the protection and empowerment of coastal and fishing communities should be among the priorities for whoever wins the election next month.
“We must not let the future generation refuse to be fishermen like their parents just because the profession no longer offers any financial benefits,” he said.