Ocean has become the blood on Indonesian veins for centuries. There is even a children's song titled "Nenek Moyangku Seorang Pelaut", which translates directly into "My Ancestor was a Sailor". The blood has been ingrained since Javanese sailors arrived in China in 131 AD to the heyday of Srivijaya Empire in the 7th to 14th century. To celebrate World's Oceans Day, we talked about the Blue economy practice in Indonesia to one of the passionate fishery scientists from Indonesia: Elle Wibisono.

Far before gaining her Ph.D. in the University of Rhode Island on sustainable fisheries, her first love of ocean sprouted when she visited Komodo Island in the early 2000s.

"I still remember when there was only one homestay in Komodo Island and we had to fly with Merpati Airlines," she said.

Since her scuba diving experience at one of the world's most alluring underwater spots, she brought home a dream to conserve fisheries in Indonesia—the vision which has guided her life as a fishery scientist.

The blue economy in Indonesia: a great start but need further long-term planning

Over recent years, more in-depth talks and discussions about the Blue Economy are happening among Indonesian stakeholders involved in fisheries. Still and all, what is Blue Economy and how are the implementation in Indonesia?

The World Bank defines Blue Economy as 'sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.' It comprises six sectors: renewable energy, tourism, climate change, fisheries, waste management and maritime transportation (UNEP, 2015).

In the latest report from The World Bank (2021) titled "Reforms for a Blue Economy in Indonesia: Oceans for Prosperity," it is clearly explained that Blue Economy is crucial for Indonesia's prosperity, not only as a nation but also for the people. As for the fishery sector, Indonesia has the second-largest fishery sector in the world. The industry has contributed US$27 billion to the nation's GDP while also provided seven million jobs and over half of animal-based protein needs in Indonesia.

Not to mention, the consumption of fishes per capita has been increasing over recent years; the growth that cannot be separated from the Government's campaign to consume more fishes. As Indonesian, we indeed could not forget on how the former Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Susi Pudjiastuti, urged us to eat more fish "or I'll drown you."

Supporting the improvement of fishery in Indonesia, Elle highlighted the importance of its long-term planning. "We need further steps after the promotion of consuming more fishes, which is educating Indonesian to know whether the fishes (they consume) come from sustainable fishing practices. Instead of promoting (the fishes) for good, it might perhaps increase the fish demand and worsen the fish population depletion caused by unsustainable fisheries."

"It's indeed a great start, but we have to think on the next steps," she added. 

Although blessed by having over 95,000 kilometers of coastline, Indonesia concurrently has complex Blue Economy management. In the same report from The World Bank (2021), the potentials of Blue Economy in Indonesia could be eroded by several challenges, such as:

  • 38% of the nation's marine captured fishes were overfished in 2017
  • 1/3 of Indonesia's coral reefs are in poor condition
  • Up to 52,000 hectares of mangroves are lost per year
  • Plastic pollution has caused USD 450 million of economic damage annually.

More law enforcement in spatial-based approaches

The Government of Indonesia's attempts to improve the management of blue sector have been embedded in the National Middle-Term Development Plan (Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Menengah Nasional) 2020-2024 through spatial-based approaches: Fisheries Management Area and Marine Protected Area.

Based on the Ministerial Regulation of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries 18/2014, Fisheries Management Area (Wilayah Pengelolaan Perikanan or WPP) is defined as 'a fisheries management area for fishing, fish cultivation, conservation, research, and fisheries development which includes inland waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, additional zones, and Indonesia's exclusive economic zone.'

While referring to the Government Regulation 60/2007, Marine Protected Area (Kawasan Konservasi Perairan or KKP) is defined as 'protected marine zones managed by a zoning system to create sustainable management of fisheries resources and its environment.' In other words, WPP divides Indonesia's water territory into eleven parts to ease fishery management while KKP selects particular Indonesia's water territory to be protected. 

As cited by Mongabay, the Director General of Marine Spatial Management, Aryo Hanggono, once said that as of March 2020, the total area of 196 KKPs in Indonesia is 23.34 million hectares or equivalent to 7.18% of Indonesia's water territory, 2.82% behind the Government's target to have 10% by 2030.

Even so, Elle hoped the new KKPs would not only become paper parks. "The target represents political will from the Government. It's a good first step, but it will be better if the policy is equipped with law enforcement and involvement from the local community to protect KKP."

She then added that the sustainability of KKP implementation also lies within the local community. To illustrate, the new development of KKP area means another fishing area—that formerly supports local people's livelihood—will be restricted. Therefore, it is crucial to include the local people in the importance of KKP and how they could help the policy.

"Sometimes, upset is a normal reaction if the road we pass by every day is suddenly closed. And so do the local community." 

Innovation in sustainable fishing

Sustainable fisheries cannot be achieved without stock assessment data. In fact, poor stock assessment data management happens in 90 percent of global fisheries, and Indonesia is no exception.

For example is our snapper fish industry. Elle recounted that fishers tend to group several snapper species into two: white snapper and red snapper. The over-simplified grouping could be problematic as the fishers are searching for plate-sized snappers, without actually knowing the ideal size of each species given their age, where one species of snapper might look "small" despite already being an adult fish, but the other species might look "big" even though it is still juvenile.

Captain Solikhin, who participates in TNC's FishFace program, poses with the special board to measure the length of fish in Paciran, Lamongan, East Java, Indonesia. (Photo by Ed Wray via The Nature Conservancy)

"But we could learn from The Nature Conservancy's project in Indonesia in improving the stock assessment data and possibly sustainable fisheries in Indonesia," she added.

To learn more about the sustainable fishery approach, Elle suggested two innovations from The Nature Conservancy and its Indonesian affiliate Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara, namely CODRS and FishFace. Both CODRS and FishFace have transformed the current expensive traditional method of stock assessment data. 

The special board used to measure the length of fishes (Photo by The Nature Conservancy Indonesia) 

CODRS, abbreviated from Crew-Operated Data Recording System, runs by fishers to determine the size and species of fishes by placing them on measuring boards and photographing them. Then, the location of the harvested fishes could be tracked by GPS.

Complementing CODRS, FishFace is an image-recognition mobile application to identify and track caught fishes. With a 95 percent of accuracy, FishFace has eliminated misidentifications and the need for expensive equipment.

From both systems, it is known that 60 percent of the exported fishes are juveniles, meaning they have not had the chance to reproduce and causing Indonesia's snapper-grouper fish population in deep trouble. To further tackle this issue, The Nature Conservancy has urged five seafood companies in Indonesia to sign a partnership agreement during the Seafood Expo North America in Boston to only buy minimum trading size for snapper-grouper fishes from Indonesia.

The voice of society is key

Achieving the ideal implementation of Blue Economy in Indonesia will be a long journey. Still, Elle believed that the movement should start from the society. "The society could start by promoting the importance of sustainable fishing as loud as possible. Once there is demand for sustainable fisheries from the society, the policies and industries will follow suit."

"Indonesia is a maritime country. How can we be running out of fishes?" she concluded.


Written by: Rizki Ramadhan Prayitno and Carrina Lim (The Water Agency)