As Covid-19 hit seafood sales, Indonesian fishers worry about sinking livelihood

With restaurants and shopping malls shut down to observe social distancing measures, and export demand taking a plunge, Indonesian fishers are now seeing a dip in their incomes with many worried about losing their jobs.

Indonesian fishers
Fishermen’s catches are piling up in cold storage as demand for seafood slumps amid restaurant closures. Image: Falahi Mubarok/Mongabay Indonesia

At a fishing port in eastern Java, fisherman Muhammad Fauzi was unloading his catch after spending days out at sea. He still goes fishing even though sales have dropped in the past couple of months due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“If I don’t go, what work will I do? If had a farm, I’d rather do that,” Fauzi, 34, told Mongabay on March 29 at the port in Lamongan district, in Indonesia’s East Java province.

Fauzi is one of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians whose livelihood depends on fishing. But a string of measures by authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has been a blow to many local industries, including fisheries.

In Fauzi’s case, he said he used to earn up to 5 million rupiah ($300) for 15 days of fishing. Recently, however, he’s been making 1.5 million rupiah ($90) at most, while his expenses remain the same.

“So working at sea is almost a waste,” Fauzi said.

Siti Aminah, 45, works at the Lamongan fish port sorting the catch that the fishermen bring in. She said she hoped the virus wouldn’t hit the area, otherwise authorities would be forced to shut down the port, leaving her out of a job. The ongoing drop in sales has already slashed her daily income by half, she said.

“Before the virus outbreak, many tourists came here. But as long as no outsiders enter anymore, it should be safe,” Siti told Mongabay.

In the wake of the outbreak, now a global pandemic, Indonesia has followed in the steps of other countries around the world to impose travel and trade restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Fish exports to China, in particular, have declined significantly. The move has hit the shrimp-fishing community in Sumatra’s Jambi province, which is highly reliant on the Chinese market.

Stakeholders shouldn’t need to worry, the fisheries ministry continues to monitor every event in the field and is prepared to be involved at any time.

Slamet Soebjakto, director of aquaculture, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Since Indonesia reported its first confirmed COVID-19 infections on March 2, local governments have restricted travel between provinces and cities. Food shipments are exempt from these restrictions, but demand has gone down with the temporary closure of restaurants and shopping malls.

That’s had an impact on fishermen in East Java and across the country, said Ibrahim, the head of the Lamongan port authority. He said much of the fish being brought in was now piling up in cold storage. Fish exports from the port have dropped by as much as 70 per cent since February, Ibrahim said. Destination countries include France, Italy, the Netherlands, the U.S., Thailand, Taiwan, and China.

Fishermen from the north coast of Java, an area known as Pantura, have raised concerns about the impact to their industry and communities. Indonesia registered 2,491 COVID-19 infections as of April 6, more than four-fifths of which were in Java.

The fisheries ministry has said it will make efforts to prop up fish sales and provide fishermen with financial aid in the meantime. Among the measures, it is requiring that cold storage companies take in all the fish brought to port. It is also overseeing the supply of fish pellets and other aquaculture items to fish farmers.

“The president’s message is very clear that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the government must sustain productivity, purchasing power and food supply,” said Slamet Soebjakto, director of aquaculture at the fisheries ministry.

“Stakeholders shouldn’t need to worry, the fisheries ministry continues to monitor every event in the field and is prepared to be involved at any time.”

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.

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