New fisherfolk network takes action

Down to Earth No. 43, November 1999

NGOs and community groups launched an action network against trawlers with a protest to government fisheries officials in Jakarta on August 16th.

GRANAT (Gerakan Nelayan Anti-Trawl or Fisherfolk's Anti-Trawler Movement) is an alliance comprising ALDERA (Peoples' Democratic Alliance), YPDH Jambi (Forest-Village Development Foundation), SKEPHI (NGOs Network for Indonesian Forest Conservation), and Mauk Fisherfolk Solidarity from the district of Tangerang (West Java). Some 50 members of GRANAT (which means grenade in Indonesian) and representatives of Jambi's traditional fishing communities marched on the Agriculture Department in South Jakarta which has overall responsibility for fisheries. They carried banners and posters saying "Fisherfolk are united – ban trawlers", "Stop robbing our natural resources" and "Trawlers are the symbol of greed".

The protestors demanded concrete action by the government to protect the traditional fishing industry by putting an immediate ban on trawling along the eastern coast of Jambi; an investigation into government officials who have granted trawler licenses; legal action against officials and owners of illegal trawlers; and implementation of existing government fisheries regulations. Fisheries Directorate officials reluctantly met GRANAT representatives and made the usual promises to pay heed to their demands, but refused to commit themselves to any deadlines.



GRANAT is calling for the international community to support the Jambi fishing villagers' action and other traditional fisherfolk by writing to the Indonesian Agriculture Minister (who is responsible for fisheries) to demand an immediate, permanent ban on all large-scale seine net trawling. Send your letters to:

M. Prakosa
Minister of Agriculture
Agriculture Department
Jl. Harsono RM, No.3
Ragunan, Pasar Minggu
Jakarta 12550 – Indonesia
Fax No: + 62 21 78833066


Large-scale trawling was banned in Indonesia by Presidential Decree in 1980 because of its detrimental effects on the marine environment and traditional fishing operations. It also contravenes the 1985 Fisheries Law intended to protect coastal ecosystems and fish stocks. The ban was subsequently modified to permit limited trawling in the waters of Eastern Indonesia. Big trawlers began to reappear in the mid-1990s and their numbers have steadily increased. It is estimated that around 1,000 such trawlers, mostly owned by rich businessmen, now operate illegally in Indonesian waters.

Trawlers routinely operate very close to the shore, often at night. Due to the technique and mesh sizes employed, all sorts of fish and shrimps are swept up, regardless of size or commercial value, stripping the waters of marine life. Moves to replace mid-water trawling by bottom trawling have not improved matters as this practice is just as damaging to the marine environment.

The Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Sumatra is a favoured area for trawlers and local communities are feeling the effects of overfishing. Around 5,000 families along the east coast of Jambi depend on small-scale fishing. Since the trawlers arrived, fisherfolk's catches have fallen from 30kg to 5kg per day. Some days they return with completely empty nets. Many local boat owners are now deeply in debt, since the value of their catches does not cover their fuel and maintenance costs. Traditional methods which use various kinds of nets, lines and traps to catch fish and shrimp cannot compete against large-scale trawling. It is virtually impossible to take legal action against illegal operators since many big fishing boats use licences issued to co-operatives run by local officials, the military and police. Poverty has forced some traditional fisherfolk to seek other jobs in sawmills or as pedicab drivers.

The villagers are particularly frustrated since the local government broke earlier promises to take effective action against illegal trawling. Local communities were promised protected fishing zones after protests by Jambi fisherfolk and university students in 1998, but these have never been established and the number of trawlers continued to rise. Jambi fishing communities suspect that local government indifference to their economic plight is due to the income officials derive from licence fees, taxes and other legal and illegal levies on big boat owners. A month after GRANAT's initial action in Jakarta, the central authorities had made no response to their demands. A local fisheries official told reporters that they had imposed fines on trawler operators and summoned them for discussions, but boat owners refused to co-operate.

Fishing communities' anger culminated in the burning of as many as ten large trawlers in Jambi (reports vary from 5-10). Ten people were arrested and one shot by the security forces in this incident which took place about 125km from the provincial capital. On September 20th, 750 fisherfolk acting under the name of GRANAT Jambi demanded action against illegal trawlers from the mayor of Tanjung Jabung district. When he refused to meet them a 3,000 strong crowd went down to the harbour at Kuala Tungkal, which nearly 400 of these boats use as a base. They towed some trawlers out to sea and set fire to them. The owners estimate losses of around Rp1 billion (around US$ 140,000). Local police claimed that activists had threatened to burn down the mayor's home and blamed 'provokator' for inciting the local community to violence. Villagers responded that the police are in the pay of the boat owners.

Local fisheries officials were initially reluctant to take action, claiming that withdrawing licences from the 392 trawlers would cost the jobs of 3,000 crew and 500 workers in local warehouses and ice plants. As tensions ran high in Kuala Tungkal, local fish prices doubled and exports were threatened, they changed their minds and banned trawling. However, they claimed they lacked the authority to take away licences. Hundreds of protestors demanded that the local administration should sack Tanjung Jabung's mayor, Achmad Sugeng.

Various authorities in Jakarta made 'reformist' statements geared at gaining popular support in the run-up to the take-over by the new government. Jambi MP Usman Emulan in Jakarta blamed the local government for siding with big business instead of listening to the fisherfolk's grievances and reminded officials and police in Tanjung Jabung that trawling had been illegal for years. Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Sutjipto stated at a seminar on community fisheries in Jakarta that the Navy would not tolerate illegal fishing operations.

(Sources: GRANAT press releases 18/8/99, 2/9/99, 20/9/99; MI 21/9/99, 23/9/99; Kompas 22/9/99; SriPos 23/9/99, SP25/9/99, 25/9/99, 26/9/99)


Traditional fishing and Indonesian law

"The Basic Agrarian Law and existing land registration laws do not address the existence of customary and individual rights and interests in marine areas and resources. Nor are these rights and interests formally acknowledged in the Basic Fisheries Act (UU9/1985) or any of the other Acts which delineate state control over marine areas and resources. With no one government department committed to the management of coastal and marine areas, in the absence of an integrated policy on coastal development and given under-staffing and under-resourcing of those departments involved in marine management, the outcome is a de facto, highly competitive, open-access system with limited enforcement of fisheries regulation."

(Source: Old World Places, New World Problems, S Pannell & F von Benda-Beckman, ANU, 1998, p18)