Development policies need to identify the potential of and challenges faced by coastal communities.

Maritime actors are a key element in Indonesia’s marine and fisheries sector development. Therefore, development policies need to identify the potential and problems faced by these groups.

This was expressed at a national seminar entitled “Resilient Coastal Areas for Advanced Indonesia” on Wednesday (13/9/23). Prof. Dr. Ahmad Najib Burhani, Head of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Organization of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) said that before formulating policies in the marine and fisheries sector, the government needs to know the four main stakeholders in this sector.

First, the sea people. An example is the Bajo people, which based on the 2010 census of the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) recorded around 241,386 people. This tribe is known as the sea tribe, sea people, and sea nomads. Apart from the Bajo tribe, Najib also categorizes Sangihe natives in North Sulawesi, as sea people.

They are believed to be able to identify fishing areas with names that show the ecosystem characteristics in certain water areas. “On Kahakitang Island, for example, the community identified 10 special fishing grounds for malalugis (Mackerel scad/Decapterus macarellus),” Najib explained.

The second key stakeholder is the fishing community. Najib said that in 2016, their population was 2,261,874 people, operating 625,633 boats/vessels, with a total production of 6.5 million tons of fish.

In 2019, they produced 8.2 million tons of fish using a fleet dominated by small vessels.

Third, the people or traditional shipping community, which as of 2016, included 1,384 traditional shipping vessels. And, fourth, is the coastal community, which covers 140 million people out of 250 million Indonesians. This community is spread across 297 coastal districts/cities out of 540 districts/cities in the country.

“Actually, we have methods for resilient coasts. The trick is not just to look at the sea in terms of commodities and technocratic approaches, or hi-tech, which actually increases dependence on (experts) abroad,” said Najib.

“We propose a cultural approach to empower the four stakeholders of the maritime sector.”

Dani Setiawan, the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen Union (KNTI) chair added that efforts to strengthen the marine and fisheries sector must pay attention to the current conditions and challenges faced by traditional fishermen in Indonesia.

This group covers 97% of the country’s fishermen. It contributes to the majority of total national fisheries production, where 54% of animal protein comes from fisheries resources.

However, a 2021 study by KNTI in 25 cities/districts found that many fishermen have difficulty accessing social and economic assistance due to administrative problems. This is especially in fishermen’s data collection.

“Our survey in 2021 found that 77% of fishermen do not have insurance. So they are very vulnerable. If someone dies at sea, if they have an accident at sea, they have no protection,” said Dani.

Furthermore, 80% of fishermen don’t have other jobs, which means they don’t earn income during bad weather. “Coastal areas must be supported with alternative employment schemes when fishing communities cannot return to the sea,” Dani said.

Read also: Duano fishers truggle with climate and mangrove woes

Encouraging favorable regulations

For Susi Pudjiastuti, former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (2014-2019), efforts to improve coastal communities’ quality of life must be made by encouraging favorable regulations. For example, giving district governments the authority to oversee and manage the marine and fisheries sector in their administrative areas.

“(District governments) have absolutely no rights, not even 4 miles. The sea is in front of them, but they have no authority. How can district heads protect their people, their fishermen?”.

In addition, Susi said the regulations must strengthen coastal communities’ sovereignty by prohibiting foreigners, foreign vessels, and foreign capital from fishing in Indonesian waters.

Susi also underlines the importance of policies and actions to maintain marine and fisheries sustainability. The former maritime minister believes tightening and limiting fishing activities will encourage fish growth, environmental sustainability, and national food security.

“The more we protect, the more we govern, the more productive our natural resources will be. For example, fishing months are regulated, destructive fishing gear is prohibited, and size is also regulated,” he added.

Susi says protecting the ocean is the most significant, easiest, and cheapest step to take. Susi believes that ocean protection will also strengthen Indonesia’s future by providing potential economic benefits for generations to come.

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