Sun, May 14, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Jakarta’s fishery enforcer wins acclaim

‘BOOM’:In Washington to collect an award, the ex-seafood entrepreneur who had no previous political experience, described her fight against illegal foreign fishing practices


A high-school dropout turned seafood entrepreneur is leading Indonesia’s crackdown on illegal fishing, winning plaudits from conservationists and awards as far away as Washington despite her explosive methods.

A favorite tactic: seizing foreign fishing vessels and then blowing them up to send a message to her country’s neighbors.

Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastut, honored this week in Washington for her ecological work, has led Jakarta’s charge in destroying hundreds of fishing vessels in the two years since she assumed her post.

Her efforts have not eliminated a problem that has plagued the archipelago nation for decades, she said, but they have boosted fish stocks and curbed smuggling.

Catches of anchovies, king prawns and yellow fin tuna are up, helping local fishermen and reducing food prices, Pudjiastuti said.

“What we actually earn also is respect,” Pudjiastuti said in Washington, where she joined other recipients of the annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards — named for the author of Jaws. She was cited for her efforts in protecting Indonesia’s marine ecosystem, and tackling poachers and organized crime.

“They cannot just do anything anymore,” Pudjiastuti said.

Whereas 10,000 foreign vessels used to fish in Indonesian waters “like in their own country,” she said the new reality was clear: “Not anymore.”

For China and others in the region, sensitive politics also are at play. Indonesia’s uncompromising approach has irked neighbors whose boats have been caught up in the dragnet for operating in seas plagued by territorial disputes. The campaign might partly reflect Indonesia’s desire to show it is in control of its vast territory of 17,000 islands.

Pudjiastuti, 52, has won popularity at home as the campaign’s leader, defying initial skepticism when she was tapped as minister in 2014. She had no political experience and had not even graduated high school. However, she spent three decades as a seafood entrepreneur and knew the business. She had also run her own charter airline, Susi Air, to distribute and export produce.

On taking office, she quickly declared a fishing moratorium for foreign vessels that had often operated under Indonesian flags.

“The state’s sovereignty has to be upheld,” she said.

To ram the point home, Indonesian authorities have sunk more than 300 foreign fishing vessels.

In the most recent mass-destruction early last month, Indonesian authorities destroyed 81 empty ships in a single weekend. Most were from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.

In March last year, a large Nigerian-flagged vessel was caught poaching toothfish and after being evacuated, blown up with great fanfare. Pudjiastuti posed on the beach afterward with Indonesian Navy officials, their fists raised in the air with the smoking boat behind them.

“The visuals and press that comes from her tough practices on blowing these ships up has really helped educate the world,” said Sally Yozell, director of the environmental security program at Washington’s Stimson Center think tank, speaking of the global scourge of overfishing.

However, she said she recognized the regional frictions of the campaign, which included several incidents last year of Indonesia firing warning shots and seizing Chinese fishing vessels in waters off its Natuna Islands.

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