The shrimp industry

Down to Earth No 51 November 2001


Despite a poor social and environmental record across the globe, commercial aquaculture - intensive fish-farming - is still regarded as having a bright future in Indonesia. According to former marine affairs minister Sarwono, of Indonesia's total fish production, 82% is from capture fisheries. "We need to push for aquaculture to boost fish production" he told a March workshop. Around 2.4 million hectares of coastal areas in eastern Indonesia, had potential for fish farming, he said.

The British and French governments are both reported to be expanding ties with Indonesia in areas including aquaculture and marine product processing technology. A page on the British Embassy's website in Jakarta says there is "ample opportunity" for aquaculture development in Sulawesi, Sumatra and Maluku, as a business opportunity "with huge potential". However, another page on the same site describes how "[t]he extensive development of aquaculture industries (prawn and fish farming) off Java and Sumatra has led to the destruction (approximately 40% since the mid 1980s) of large areas of mangrove forests and the remaining areas of mangrove are coming under increasing pressure." France's co-operation with Indonesia includes plans to import Indonesian fish through its Carrefour and Intermarche retailers.

The shrimp industry, with its use of antibiotics and high levels of chemicals, has proven particularly harmful to coastal communities in many countries, including Indonesia. Thousands of hectares of mangroves have been felled for industrial-scale intensive shrimp farms which employ local or transmigrant workers as contract farmers under Indonesia's much criticised nucleus estate/small-holder (PIR) system. Coastal land rights held by local communities have been swept aside. According to WALHI, there are only around 2.2 million hectares of mangroves remaining. The unsustainable industrial system is replacing traditional methods of shrimp-farming which work from the principle that mangroves must be conserved as the natural breeding ground for shrimp and other species.

Indonesia is the third largest supplier of shrimp after Thailand and China, exporting between 60,000 to 90,000 tonnes a year to the US, Japan and Europe. According to a study by WALHI, up to a million hectares of land, mostly mangrove forests - has been allocated by the Indonesian government for the shrimp hatchery industry. WALHI says that in 1974 the World Bank financed shrimp farming in 7 provinces. Now, close to 70% of the shrimp farms in those provinces are abandoned. The operators found the farms unsustainable due to the high concentration of chemicals and the destruction of the mangrove environment, according to WALHI. The NGO says donor agencies should be held accountable for any environmental destruction caused by shrimp farming and should consider providing grants - not loans - to rehabilitate the abandoned areas. WALHI wants the Indonesian government to outline clear criteria for sustainable shrimp farming and ways to rehabilitate damaged mangroves.

Lampung in southern Sumatra is one area where commercial shrimp farms have taken over large tracts of coastline and local people are well aware of the kind of conflicts that can result - such as those at the PT Dipasena Citra Darmaja (DCD) farm, where three people were killed last year (see DTE 45*). In March this year it was reported that a further 700 hectares of fish farms were to be developed in Central Lampung district. Villagers are concerned that the development will result in more pollution. What local people need, they say, is capital for investing in fishing equipment and assistance with marketing their fish, not more shrimp farms. Local environmental group WALHI Lampung has urged the local government to delay approving the new developments until there is a clear policy on criteria for sustainable shrimp aquaculture. The NGO is calling for a moratorium on nucleus-estate/small-holder shrimp farms and for the promotion of environmentally sustainable small-scale farms. It wants more protection for mangroves, a limit to the size of farms owned by any one person and standards/threshold limits for pollution from shrimp farms.


Sustainable aquaculture

A sustainable form of shrimp farming in mangrove coasts is being developed by a women's organisation in Sulawesi, Persatuan Perempuan Sama The method, called Empang Parit involves digging ditches and replanting mangroves in the middle of the shrimp ponds. The mangrove trees then attract the fish and shrimp species. PPS has developed more than 20 ha of the ponds in Southeast Sulawesi. (MAP 28/Jul/00)


In Jambi province local people and NGOs are working to establish ground rules for sustainable aquaculture with local authorities. According to a 2000 report by SKEPHI, the provincial transmigration and fisheries departments have developed plans for 34,000 hectares of shrimp farms in the province. The project has already been approved by East Tanjung Jabung district authorities who are keen to raise local revenues. The development borders the Berbak national park's wetland area and will threaten the mangrove forests along the Jambi coast. SKEPHI is lobbying to try to ensure that only sustainable aquaculture is permitted.

(IPS 17/Mar/01; and Jakarta Post 21/Mar/01, 17/Feb/01; Letter to Central Lampung district head from Syarif, head of Cabang fisherfolk group, 9/Mar/01, via WALHI Lampung; WALHI Lampung,Kampanye Tambak received by email 16/Mar/01; MAP 28/Jul/2000; Bisnis 31/Jan/01)

*In April this year Bisnis Indonesia reported that small-holder shrimp farmers tied into this scheme (now taken over by Indonesia's Bank Restructuring Agency) should not owe more than Rp 100 million each and that the interest on their debts should be cancelled. Farmers' grievances against the company included the fact that the company's debts were being offloaded onto the workforce. The company owes Rp 1.9 trillion and has not been operating since the end of 1999. (Bisnis 4/Apr/01)


US and Indonesia in shrimp-fishing row

The World Trade Organisation has upheld a US ruling that Indonesia's commercial shrimp-trawling industry is failing to protect endangered turtles by using turtle excluder devices (TEDs). US marine fisheries inspectors found at least one trawler, PT West Irian Fisheries Industries, operating in West Papuan waters which was not fitted with a TED, prompting the US decision to halt the imports of shrimp caught with this type of equipment. TEDs are obligatory under both US and Indonesian law.

In response, minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Rokhmin Dahuri, claimed there had been a 'misunderstanding' and asked for a re-inspection.

Indonesia's shrimp trade was worth US $184.294 million in 2000.

The Indonesian NGO SKEPHI has questioned the efficiency of TEDs in protecting turtles and regards the dispute as a diversion from the main problems associated with trawling: that it is highly destructive of the marine environment, it deprives coastal communities of their traditional fisheries and is an industry that pays very low wages.

Sea turtles are also hunted illegally for their meat - an estimated 20,000 of the endangered reptiles are killed on Bali each year - more than anywhere else in the world. A leading turtle trader was jailed for a year in May, in the first high profile case since hunting and killing sea turtles was outlawed in 1999.

(ENS 19/Jun/01; US Embassy 30/Jul/01; Turtle excluder devices are only cosmetic in Indonesia: SKEPHI Coastal & Marine programme, received 18/Jul/01, summary translation by DTE; LA Times 11/May/01)


Information resources

PPLH Bali:

Yayasan Kelola:

Mangrove Action Project:

Worldwatch Institute:

Marine Conservation Society:

International Marine Alliance:


World Atlas of Coral Reefs:



New report:
The Blue Revolution: Another Environmental Disaster in Indonesia

Konphalindo, 2001, 97 pages, 28cm, Rp 75,000.


This study looks at the development of shrimp farming in Indonesia with a specific focus on the north coast of Java. It traces the history of shrimp aquaculture, analyses the transformation to more intensive monocultures in the 1980s, the disastrous harvest of 1993-4 and the adaptations that farmers made in the wake of the disaster. It concludes that the current system - a combination of traditional and modern methods - offers the best hope for sustainable production in the region.