Indonesia’s tuna fisheries race for sustainability

The world’s biggest tuna producer, Indonesia’s fisheries have long been plagued by poaching and destructive fishing practices. But the industry is now seeking to offer certified sustainable seafood.

Indonesia is racing to certify its world-leading tuna fisheries as sustainable, drawn by the lucrative global market for eco-labeled seafood.

The government has since 2014 rolled out a series of tough measures — from seizing and sinking illegal foreign fishing vessels to prohibiting destructive practices such as the use of trawl nets — to drive reform in the capture fisheries sector of one of the world’s biggest seafood-producing nations. These efforts have fueled a massive recovery in fish stocks over the past few years, the government says, and the focus is now on attaining international certification to benefit from a growing appetite for sustainably caught fish.

“We want this industry to change from ‘illegal, unreported and unregulated’ to ‘legal, reported and regulated,’” Zulficar Mochtar, the head of capture fisheries at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, told Mongabay.

The biggest draw for fishing communities and commercial fishing operators certified as sustainable is that they can sell their products at premium price of at least 16 per cent over non-certified seafood products, Zulficar said.

“Although it’s a voluntary decision by fisheries operators to get certified, we’re urging them to do it because this is part of our efforts to fix the fisheries industry at large,” he said.

I think the interest in certification we are seeing in Indonesia is part of a global trend, stimulated by the growing market for certified sustainable seafood around the world.

Patrick Caleo, director for Asia-Pacific, Marine Stewardship Council

Various schemes exist to certify that fish stocks are sustainable, environmental impacts are minimised,labourr rights are respected, supply chain transparency and traceability are in place, and management is governed by best practices.

What gets certified under schemes such as that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are the fishing grounds, vessels, equipment, and species of fish, with the operators as the certificate holders.

Last November, a one-by-one tuna fishery in West Papua province became the first in Indonesia certified by the MSC for sustainable fishing. Another is now being assessed by the council, while at least a dozen more are preparing to undergo the certification process.

“I think the interest in certification we are seeing in Indonesia is part of a global trend, stimulated by the growing market for certified sustainable seafood around the world,” Patrick Caleo, the Asia-Pacific director at MSC, told Mongabay.

He said key export markets for Indonesian seafood, including China, Japan and the United States, were demonstrating strong interest in the MSC program. “I believe this growing trend for certified sustainable products presents a great opportunity for Indonesia’s seafood industry,” he said.

The tuna operation in Sorong, West Papua, run by PT Citraraja Ampat Canning (CRAC), is only the second in Southeast Asia to be MSC-certified. It runs 35 pole-and-line fishing vessels and employs 750 local fishermen. In 2016, it caught and processed 2,647 tonnes of skipjack and 543 tonnes of yellowfin tuna, according to PT CRAC. It currently exports to Singapore, Malaysia and Europe.

Ali Wibisono, the company’s CEO, said in a statement that attaining sustainable fishing certification was “very important for our fishermen and fishing communities in Sorong and will help ensure that the fish and a healthy ocean will be there for future generations.”

The fishing operation has since 1975 used tethered rafts, known as anchored fish aggregating devices, to attract fish, Ali said. They’re caught one at a time using a pole and line, a highly selective method with a small footprint on the local ecosystem.

“We hope this certification will inspire other Indonesian one-by-one tuna fisheries to follow up with sustainable fishing and certification,” Ali said.

It’s a far cry from how tuna is typically caught in Indonesia, or indeed elsewhere. Global tuna fisheries are valued at more than $40 billion annually, and Indonesia is at the top of the list, with total landings of more than 620,000 metric tonnes of the fish in 2014. Much of the tuna caught worldwide is landed using large purse seine nets to encircle schools of fish.

These invariably sweep up other species of marine life, including turtles and sharks, making this method more ecologically harmful than the equipment used in so-called one-by-one fisheries, such as pole and line, handline, or troll line.

“Our philosophy of one hook, one line, one fish at a time … is recognised as being the most sustainable model,” Martin Purves, managing director of the UK-based charity the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPLF) said, as quoted by the Guardian.

In February, US-based Anova Food announced that its supplier operating near Buru in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands had entered into a full assessment to be certified by the MSC, making it the first handline tuna fishery to do so in Indonesia. The tuna processing company PT Harta Samudra wants 140 of its yellowfin tuna vessels operating off northern Buru to be certified. Assessors are scheduled to visit the site in late March.

“[W]e’ve had our sights set on MSC certification as it’s extremely important for us and our supply chains to reach the highest available standards,” Blane Olson, the managing director of Anova Technical Services, said in a statement.

The handline skipjack fishery in North Buru district has been getting help from local NGOs, including the Indonesian Society and Fisheries Foundation (MDPI), to document their practices ahead of enrolling in the MSC assessment.

Deirdre Duggan, the director of programs and science at MDPI, said the foundation had been engaged with the fishing operation for the past five years, supporting a range of activities, including landing site data collection, vessel registration, increasing understanding of national regulations and market certification, strengthening fisher groups, and improving best handling practices for threatened and protected species.

She said MDPI was also working with district, provincial and national-level governments and other stakeholders to establish co-management committees to addressing issues of concern in the fisheries sector.

“Evidence of the fishery characteristics, in terms of fishing grounds, catch, gear use, etc. is key yet often challenging for such a small-scale fishery,” Duggan told Mongabay in an email.

“Documenting this information requires collaboration from the industry, fishing communities and government over a period of time,” she said. “It is also important to involve government stakeholders from the beginning, to ensure they are aware of and can support the process as well as supporting in addressing any potential conditional pass scorings on performance indicators related to them.”

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com. Read the full story.

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