Indonesia is pushing for a nationwide harvest strategy for its world-leading tropical tuna fishery, in an effort to protect the country’s wild stock.
Indonesia’s annual tuna catch is largest of any country. Since 2018, the government has applied an interim harvest strategy that consists of, among others, harvest control rules and monitoring for skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), bigeye (Thunnus obesus) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) in its three fishery management areas (WPP). But the country’s fisheries ministry said recently that having a specific nationwide harvest strategy would be crucial for protecting the country’s wild stock.
The planned tuna harvest strategy will also help the government’s ongoing push to achieve sustainability certification for its fisheries and subsequently open them to the growing global demand for eco-labeled seafood. Much of Indonesia’s tuna catch depends on the country’s small-scale handline fishers, according to the ministry.
“The certification underpins the access of Indonesian tuna products to the global market,” Trian Yunanda, the director of fish resource management at the ministry, said in a statement.
The global tuna fishery is valued at more than $40 billion annually, with Indonesia at the top of the list. The country caught an average of more than 628,000 metric tons of the fish between 2012 and 2018, according to government data.
Some observers have welcomed the proposed establishment of a nationwide tuna harvest strategy. An example of the harvest control rules that could be imposed under such a strategy may be if the stock in a given area falls to less than 40% of its pristine (unfished) level. At that point, a fishery manager would impose a closed season of 100 days, according to Peter Mous, director of the sustainable fisheries program at Bali-based NGO Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN).
“Formalizing a harvest strategy is one way to show progress towards [sustainability] certification, and therefore these two concepts are closely linked,” Mous said. “The challenge for Indonesia, of course, is to demonstrate positive impact at sea, based on actual data and sound analysis.”
Indonesia is in the meantime targeting to expand its longline fishing fleet in the high seas as part of its plan for a world-leading sustainable tuna fishery by 2025. The expansion is also part of the country’s efforts to tap into the increased harvest quota granted to Indonesia by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). These include the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Inter-Atlantic Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT).
Since 2017, Indonesia has worked on building a high-seas tuna fleet after earlier banning foreign fishing vessels from its own waters. Data from the fisheries ministry show the number of authorized tuna vessels larger than 30 gross tonnage nearly doubled to 664 between 2017 and 2020.
In addition to these efforts, the Southeast Asian country is planning to limit the number of operating fish aggregating devices; implement a temporary moratorium on tuna fishing in the Banda Sea to protect juveniles; and reduce the carbon footprint of its vessels. Much of the fishing grounds in the Pacific and Indian oceans, which Indonesia straddles, are already fully exploited, with many tuna species subject to overfishing.