Govt to extend fishing ban, revamp regulations

Following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s recent call to boost anti-poaching efforts in the country, the government is likely to extend the moratorium on permits granted to foreign fishing vessels by another six months.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Soesilo confirmed with The Jakarta Post over the weekend that Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti had spoken about extending the permit ban until Oct. 31, possibly by issuing a new ministerial regulation to supplant the previous one.

Susi did not respond to a request to interview her on the subject.

The ban is currently stipulated in Marine and Fisheries Minister Regulation No. 56/2014 with effect from Nov. 3, 2014 to April 30.

The decision to extend the ban is expected to address the various issues that have recently arisen in the sector, including the alleged forced-labor case in Benjina, Maluku, that involved over a thousand foreign workers.

Susi discussed the plan with Indroyono and Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno last Wednesday during a closed-door meeting, also hinting at it earlier in the week.

As a result of that meeting, the government decided to expand its efforts in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by reinforcing the existing anti-illegal fishing task force and putting the Maritime Security Board (Bakamla) in charge.

According to Indroyono, the improved team — consisting of institutions such as the Navy, Customs and the Attorney General’s Office — will be deployed in a major operation scheduled for the end of this year.

Marine expert Yonvitner from the Bogor Agricultural Institute supported the decision to extend the moratorium, arguing that the government required more time to complete its data and put the technical rules in place. “The ministry has received positive responses from the public, so there’s a need to prove the success of this regulation,” Yonvitner said on Sunday.

He urged the ministry to reach out to industry stakeholders and lay down the moratorium’s objectives in regard to administration, technicalities and implementation to anticipate the repercussions.

Meanwhile, local media reports have also confirmed the plan with the head of the current anti-illegal fishing task force, Mas Achmad Santosa, who said the extension was warranted due to the large number of fishing vessels that must undergo a strict audit — also known as Annev — in order to ensure compliance with the existing rules.

According to data from the task force, the Annev audit has already disqualified 887 of the 1,132 registered foreign vessels from obtaining new permits to operate in the country, with this number expected to rise.

Violations of rules vary, ranging from illegal transshipment practices, employing foreign crew and non-sustainable fishing equipment to unserviceable monitoring instruments and trespassing on fishing grounds.

Achmad said his team needed to audit the remainder of the vessels in Ambon, Sorong and Wanam in Papua, as well as Batam and Natuna in the Riau Islands.

“We are speeding everything up [for conclusion by the end of this month],” he told the Post on Sunday.

In a related development, Achmad said the task force had found new evidence relating to the seizure of Chinese-built MV Hai Fa, the largest vessel that the government has ever captured. He said the task force was currently in the process of consolidating the new findings, although he declined to elaborate.

It is expected that the new evidence will challenge an Ambon District Court ruling, in which the Hai Fa’s operators were fined Rp 200 million (US$15,500) but evaded criminal charges and vessel seizure.

“There is a chance of conducting a new probe once it is decided whether or not we join forces with the investigators from the Navy,” he said.

The operator of the Panama-flagged ship, Chan Kit, previously filed a lawsuit against minister Susi for defamation.

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