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Policies create tuna scarcity, drive up prices

Indonesia’s tuna industry is reaping the rewards of the government’s recent efforts to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, as buyers sought Indonesian tuna and local prices climbed 12.8 percent on the back of global shortages.

Tuna scarcity — and its ensuing price hike — has been attributed to the government’s firm stance on IUU fishing, especially through its moratorium on license renewals for foreign-built fishing vessels and the open-sea transshipment ban.

According to Dwi Agus, secretary-general of the Indonesian Tuna Longline Association (ATLI), several tuna landing centers in the region like the Philippines and Thailand are low on supply, prompting importers from the US, EU and Japan to purchase their stocks from Indonesia. 

Dwi said fresh tuna exports fetched a premium of US$5–$7 per kilogram, whereas frozen tuna was sold for $3–$4 per kg.

The 12.8 per cent price increase, Dwi continued, was also owed partly to the dollar’s high exchange rate. 

“Our [association members’] catch volume has decreased, but the high prices for exports have more than compensated for it,” he told reporters after a discussion with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti in Jakarta on Friday.

Data from the association shows that catch volume has declined by 35 percent ever since Susi’s transshipment ban was enforced late last year, causing export volume in January 2015 to slow 9.8 percent compared with the previous month. 

In January, Tuna exports from Bali — ATLI’s home base — amounted to 2,003 metric tons, compared to last December’s export volume of 2,222 metric tons.

In spite of the volume decline, Dwi said the effect the transshipment ban had on tuna exports could only be affirmed in the next two or three months. 

“We can’t say for sure that Ibu Susi’s policy has resulted in a drastic dip in exports. That can only be seen [if the trend continues] in March or April,” he argued.

As a result of the price hike, association members still managed to generate $11.31 million in tuna exports in January.

Even with local tuna prices rising due to high demand, Dwi said longline operators were hopeful that minister Susi would rescind the transshipment ban for tuna businesses to maintain catch quality. He argued that the tuna currently fetching the high price was not the best quality due to the transshipment ban.

If transshipment practices are sanctioned again, tuna quality will improve and prices will be driven up by 30–50 percent, according to him. “Principally I agree with Ibu Susi’s intention of replenishing the global fish supply, but the only way that tuna longline operators can maintain good catch quality is by taking advantage of transshipment practices,” Dwi said.

Tuna anglers must generally ship their catches within 15–20 days in order to qualify their tuna as sashimi-grade, a feat that becomes difficult to achieve without open-sea transshipment. With Susi’s transshipment ban — stipulated in Ministerial Regulation No. 57/2014 — fishing operators are expected to land their catches on the fishing vessel’s port of origin before being exported overseas.

Meanwhile, Susi said there was hardly any indication that the transshipment ban had negatively impacted tuna production. She said the moratorium only set back fishing operators’ efficiency in favor of more sustainable fishing practices.

“Though the transshipment ban does reduce efficiency and effectiveness, it doesn’t reduce profits,” Susi said during the discussion on Friday. “Profits have in fact increased because of it.” 

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