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Indonesia Sustainable Fisheries

Lesser Sunda Sustainable Fisheries Initiative


Indonesia is a developing world nation highly dependent on the sea for food and income. However, achieving economic and biologically sustainable fisheries in Indonesia is likely to be a formidable uphill battle. Productive fisheries are threatened by a weak and often corrupt regulatory structure, a fragmented and chaotic supply chain, and inefficiencies in processing and distribution. Overfishing is a major concern due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and a lack of well enforced management regulations including no-take marine reserves. The Lesser Sunda Sustainable Fisheries Initiative is an example of a promising alternative; instead of relying on uncertain and unevenly enforced government policies, partners are working with key industry leaders to establish a new model for sustainability through private contract. If industry leaders have a sufficient share of the market (or form an alliance of seafood buyers that all agree to follow the same purchasing guidelines), they can use economic incentives to drive sustainable fishing behavior. This is essentially a new form of rights-based management, one in which the rights involved are ‘rights to sell fish.’ The strength of this approach is that its success does not depend on the quality of governance, and it can be honed to the ecology of the target species. There is no need to rely on government to adopt management regulations, establish individual catch quotas, or monitor and punish cheating. Coordinated groups of demand-side stakeholders can fulfill the function of creating and enforcing rights that align the incentives for ecological sustainability with economic performance.

Working closely with The Nature Conservancy and industry partners, the Sustainable Fisheries Group is currently modeling the feasibility of this strategy in the Lesser Sunda region. SFG team members have worked with partners on the ground to evaluate criteria for successful implementation. We are currently evaluating the conditions in which this approach can provide higher prices and greater certainty for local fishermen in order to incentivize the adoption of sustainable fishing practices. We will also assist with developing data collection protocols for fish processing plants and data assessment methods to assess stock sustainability in this data-poor context.

Achieving fishery sustainability in Indonesia will be difficult, but if a successful strategy can be devised the impact could be enormous as it could provide a template for other developing countries that suffer from the same institutional disadvantages that plague Indonesia.

Photo credit: Bob Deacon