Marine resources for climate justice

Down to Earth No.83, December 2009

The following is an abridged translation of an Indonesian-language article by M. Riza Damanik and Abdul Halim.1

The World Oceans Conference and the Coral Triangle Initiative summit in Manado, North Sulawesi,11-15 May 2009 failed to bring any significant improvement in the management of marine resources for benefit of the people - especially those living in coastal areas and small islands.

Civil society groups in the Manado Alliance had advised the Indonesian government to take a more strategic position on the impact of climate change in Indonesia's seas and coastal areas of Indonesia.

If we look back to the XVI and XVII centuries, there was better communication between fishing communities and a high level of traffic between Indonesia's islands, through a network of maritime communications supported by advances in shipping technology, expertise in navigation and a broad maritime spirit. Indonesia's fishing communities were known around the world.

There was no reference to this at the WOC-CTI meetings. Instead, Indonesia's diplomatic efforts were directed at designing ways to extract money from a variety of sources. No attention was paid to the importance of negotiating a marine climate change agenda which protects national interests and which protects, in particular, the constitutional rights of traditional fishing and coastal communities.


Roots of the problem

The deepening crisis in marine resources should have been the main consideration for Indonesia. A 2007 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO), 2007) stated that "the condition of fish resources in Indonesian waters covering the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, shows evidence of being fully-exploited and over-exploited." Meanwhile, the global demand for fish and fish products continues to increase.

Our now-limited fish resource shows that it is no longer possible to expand the catch substantially in Indonesian waters. Yet the national consumption rate continues to rise: from 21kg per person per year in 2002 to 30kg per person per year in 2009. The government needs to take heed of this and make advance efforts to minimise a predicted national fish crisis in 2015.

Another consideration is the poor management model used in conservation areas - both in terms of quality of management and also the quantity of cases where marine conservation areas conflict with the traditional way of life of coastal fishing communities. In Indonesia, regional marine conservation areas (KKLD) are prone to conflicts between communities and conservation management. The conflicts, which have involved a number of foreign conservation organisations, are sparked by the withdrawal of traditional rights to access, catch fish and manage traditional areas.

Taking these considerations into account, the Manado Alliance advised the government to reconsider its involvement in the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI). In the position paper Evicting fishermen, Drowning Climate Justice the Manado Alliance spelled out that:

  • this international forum threatened the constitutional rights of traditional fishing and coastal communities and threatened state sovereignty;
  • the government's weak diplomacy had driven it into conservation free trade which threatens biodiversity and the safety of local people;
  • this risks worsening the crisis in marine resources and national fisheries. 

The Manado Alliance also warned that:

  • in the past 15 years, ships from Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, Panama, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Burma have been fishing illegally in Indonesian waters;
  • coastal reclamation in Padang (West Sumatra) North Jakarta, Makassar (South Sulawesi) and Manado (North Sulawesi) has buried more than 5,000 hectares of mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs. More than 10 coastal reclamation projects are still being continued by the government - both at national as well as regional level.
  • the expansion of the aquaculture industry (as well as coastal reclamation) has taken more and more land over the last 25 years. As a result, mangroves have declined from 4.25 million hectares in 1982 to less than 1.9 million hectares today. This decline is made worse by the involvement of international financial institutions, such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank which have made loans for aquaculture. If averaged out, the contribution of overseas debt to finance the shrimp farms sector, has reached around Rp39.5 billion per year over the 1983-2013 period.
  • the extractive industries have also driven the marine crisis, through sedimentation in estuaries and dumping toxic mining waste in the sea - and the communities suffer the impacts. In Kota Baru, South Kalimantan, for example, the livelihoods of 3,697 fisherfolk who collect shrimp and fish, are under threat from pollution from a cement works. Meanwhile, their operational costs have risen by 67% while the catch has fallen by 50%.


Climate Justice

A month before the WOC, the Marine and Fisheries Minister Freddy Numberi claimed that the ocean and shores of Indonesia could absorb 66.9 million tonnes of carbon per year (around 245.6 million tonnes of CO2). However, various studies have concluded that oceans don't actually function as carbon sinks but as carbon sources. Moreover, the trading carbon system called for by the minister would mean even less government authority in the waters of the CTI area.

Poverty and fishing are closely related. Studies show that the pressures faced by small-scale and traditional fishing families and fisheries labourers are more intensive than those faced by other disadvantaged groups in rural areas and slum areas in urban centres, as a result of the impacts of climate change.

Their dependence on a sustainable marine ecosystem and a sustainable fishery become even more problematic with climate change. As their catch is reduced, their options for adaptation to climate change are further squeezed This means that the government needs to give priority to three things: developing new sources of livelihood which aren't dependent on the fish catch, introducing a financing scheme which can be flexible according to the needs of fishing families and intensifying the programme to diversify technology for fisherfolk.

The government also needs to suspend Ministerial Regulation No 5, 2008 on Capture Fishery Enterprises and Law No 27, 2007 on the Management of Coastal Areas and Small Islands. These two pieces of legislation clearly show the government's insensitive response to the marine and fisheries crisis. Community-based management is needed as the basis from which to respond to climate change impacts, rather than clusters of fishery enterprises with business licences for coastal waters.

Efforts to improve the lives of traditional fishing and coastal communities and minimise the effects of climate change need to follow the four principles of justice in fisheries:

  • The state must prioritise the principles of sustainable fisheries without debt, while still prioritising meeting domestic consumer demand;
  • The state has the responsibility to protect and recognise local communities' traditional fishing grounds;
  • The state must give and fully guarantee the constitutional rights of fisherfolk as citizens as well as their special rights as traditional fisherfolk;
  • The state must appreciate the whole range of activities of traditional fisherfolk, including the key part that women play.



1 M. Riza Damanik is the Secretary-General of the People's Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), Jakarta. Abdul Halim is KIARA's Programme Coordinator, Jakarta.

Sources / further reading

Adrian B. Lapian, 2008. Pelayaran dan Perniahaan Nusantara Abad ke-16 dan 17
Riza Damanik, dkk, 2008. Menjala Ikan Terakhir: Sebuah Fakta Krisis di Laut Indonesia. Jakarta: WALHI.
Riza Damanik, dkk, 2008 Menuju Konservasi Laut yang Pro Rakyat dan Pro Lingkungan. Jakarta: WALHI.
Riza Damanik, 2009. Gerak Mundur Kelautan Kita. Jakarta: KIARA.
M. Riza Damanik dan Muhammad Karim, Perdebatan Belum Usai: Apakah Laut Penyerap atau Pelepas Karbon? Jakarta: KIARA & COMMIT.