Too many boats, too little fish

Fish, crab, lobster and clams, to name just a few — is among the most popular foods in Indonesia. It is the food of choice, from lavish business dinners, wedding banquets and home-made meals, to thousands of roadside eateries that dot the archipelago.

Most of us blissfully go about our business believing that fish will always be plentiful, and that the sea will never lose its riches. This widespread perception is a myth. While Indonesia is blessed with more species of marine fish and hard coral than any other country, this species richness does not mean that fish stocks are endless. Actually, a growing body of evidence shows Indonesia’s fish populations are mostly either over-exploited or fully exploited.

To change this, the government must stop fisheries expansion and restructure the current capacity of the fishing fleet in accordance with the carrying capacity of marine ecosystems. The government must ensure that the capacity of the fleet to catch fish does not exceed the capacity of nature to produce fish.

Two national committees tasked with providing technical recommendations and policy advice to the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (DKP) recently met for the second time. The National Committee on Marine Conservation (Komnas Kolaut) and the National Committee on Fish Stock Assessment (Komnas Kajiskan) discussed policy advice recently formulated by Komnas Kolaut.

This was an important meeting, because it showed fisheries management and conservation in Indonesia are working hand in hand. The advice included recommendations to stop issuing additional fishing licenses and to embrace Marine Protected Areas as a tool to manage the multiple uses of Indonesia’s marine waters, especially fishing.

DKP’s Director of Marine National Parks and Marine Conservation and chair of the Technical Team of Komnas Kolaut, Yaya Mulyana, recommended taking a more integrated approach to designing management plans for the nation’s Fisheries Management Areas.

Fisheries managers should carefully weigh the impacts of fisheries on habitats as well as on fish populations, and they should also consider other uses of marine areas, such as fish culture, tourism, etc.

Komnas Kajiskan highlighted that fisheries managers now take a long-term view in formulating policies. They aim to optimize catches over a long period of time (25 years or more), rather than sacrificing long-term productivity for short-term gain. Noting that most fish stocks are now over-exploited or fully exploited, Komnas Kajiskan recently (February 2007) advised the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries to stop expanding the fishing fleet.

Conservation and fisheries planners both take an area-specific approach, meaning that regulations and management approaches are not the same throughout the archipelago. Instead, regulations and policies are adapted to the local situation.

The delineation of the management areas and the Fisheries Management Plan are currently being revised, which gives conservation and fisheries managers an opportunity to align their planning units to each other. In this way, management plans for each area can address fisheries as well as other uses and biodiversity conservation.

This comprehensive approach to management is known as `Ecosystem-Based Management’. Instead of designing management that optimizes just a few uses, the manager makes an assessment of the ecosystem to see which types of use can be sustained over a long period of time.

This requires a good understanding of the entire ecosystem, instead of just a few species. Methodologies to support Ecosystem-Based Management have not yet been developed. Despite this added complexity, the technique holds great promise for achieving sustainable use of Indonesia’s vast marine resources for the greatest number of people over the longest period of time.