Natuna’s fishermen face off against foreign poachers – and now, local competition

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November 29, 2021

As a fisherman from Laut Island, the northernmost habitable place of Natuna Regency, Riau Islands province, Asmareno, 46, says he often gets into trouble with boats foreign fishing, an experience he describes as “very disturbing”.
“They don’t bother us, but they tell us to leave, which we do because we are afraid,” he told the Jakarta Post on Wednesday, as members of the National Border Management Agency ( BNPP) were on a working visit to the island. Located about six hours from Ranai, the capital of Natuna, Laut Island is home to some 2,200 people, most of them fishermen.
It sits at the southern tip of the South China Sea, a highly strategic and resource-rich body of water over which China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam sometimes have overlapping claims.

The island is adjacent to one of Indonesia’s most remote Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) base markers, located in the northern Natuna Sea, where the fight against illegal, unreported and unreported fishing Regulated remains a big challenge for local authorities, as they regularly face encroachments from Malaysia. , Vietnam and China. But nowadays Asmareno is also concerned about competition with fishermen from the north Java coast, who have started to overcrowd local fishing grounds.
During a public debate on the island, Asmareno asked Interior Minister Tito Karnavian and Minister responsible for the coordination of Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD – both BNPP members – to assign out-of-town fishermen in waters at least 30 miles from Laut Island so that they do not have to compete for their catch.

Strong competition

Locals have decried what they say is the unfair advantage given to government-sponsored out-of-town fishermen to protect the border from foreign encroachment. This decision has had unintended consequences for the fishing community of Natuna, as locals are forced to share their fishing grounds with better equipped fishermen from Java, Sumatra and elsewhere.

Another resident of Laut Island, Tabrani, said it was unfortunate that locals now have to compete with the new arrivals. “Some of us are now forced to look for octopus near the coast, as deep sea fishing has become very difficult with the ships from Pekalongan [Central Java] arrive equipped with their 1000 watt lamps and trawls which allow them to catch tons of fish, ”he told ministers. “There is nothing we can do about it.”
He also said it was “unethical” to allow the use of trawls only 12 nautical miles from the coast and that the state should have consulted the local population before putting the policy in place. “When we run into foreign fishermen, we can ask the Indonesian army [TNI] or the fisheries authorities to help us. But nowadays it’s mostly just about competition between Indonesian citizens with unequal abilities, ”Tabrani said.

Problematic policy

Locals urged the government to provide a local cold chain and a modern fish market so their catch can be sold at higher prices. Asmareno said he sells most of his catch locally at low prices. Because he used traditional fishing rods, he added, the number of fish he caught could vary widely.

On a good day he could catch 300-500 kilograms of fish, but in others he could catch less than 100 kg. Public dialogue on Laut Island allowed local fishermen to voice their concerns, but visiting officials insisted that the policy of bringing in fishermen from other areas had been suspended.

The idea of ​​encouraging vessels from the north Java coast to fish in the northern Natuna Sea was proposed by Mahfud after a series of skirmishes with Chinese authorities over illegal fishing in 2020. During ‘In a previous press briefing on Tuesday, the minister said the initiative was intended to increase Indonesia’s presence in the waters and was not intended to deprive local fishermen of their income.

“Indeed, during the implementation, we encountered some technical problems. The boats were too small to stay in such a vulnerable place, and we had communication problems with the local fishermen, so in the end the policy was postponed, ”Mahfud told reporters on the trip.

Offer protections

According to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), funded by the United States Department of State, China has systematically expanded its maritime militia in the South China Sea over the past decade, in as part of its strategy to assert more control over disputed waters.

A report from the center’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) claimed that China’s maritime militia consisted of 300 ships, made up of specially built armed militia ships and commercial fishing vessels. The strategy has been described by experts as a prime example of China’s “gray area” tactics.

When asked about the possibility of trying similar tactics, Tito said the government’s approach was more about empowering local fishermen and ensuring safety through the Navy, Maritime Safety Agency (Bakamla) and other law enforcement agencies.

“Our laws prohibit the use of weapons by institutions that are not authorized to use and own weapons, but [local fishermen] will be under the protection of – and supported by – our defense and security forces, ”he said.


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