How does someone without a high school diploma become a Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, responsible for one of the largest portfolios in their country’s government? It seems an unlikely scenario, but that is exactly where Minister Susi Pudjiastuti of Indonesia finds herself. Yet, she has been extraordinarily successful at re-establishing Indonesian sovereignty over their waters and has been responsible for unprecedented recovery of its fisheries. At an illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing roundtable Friday sponsored by the Oceans Caucus Foundation and the Stimson Center, Ms. Sally Yozell (Senior Associate and Director, Environmental Security Program, Stimson Center) introduced her as “an unwavering advocate” for local, sustainable fishing and praised her for her hard stance against foreign fishing vessels entering Indonesia’s sovereign waters.
Minister Pudjiastuti has more than 30 years of experience in the fishing industry and has taken many steps to improve sustainability measures, including the establishment of Susi Air in 2004 to reduce mortality rates in fisheries cargo. The decade before her appointment as Minister in 2014 saw steep declines in fish within Indonesia’s waters. She lamented stocks went “from two tons a day to ten-to-twenty kilos a day within six to eight years.” There was also a 50 percent decrease in fishing households between 2003 and 2013. Facilities that had once been busy were shut down due to lack of material to process. Additionally, illegal practices extended beyond fish to the take of marine and terrestrial endangered species and drug smuggling.
As minister, Ms. Pudjiastuti recognized IUU fishing as a major threat to the fishing industry and approached President Joko Widodo of Indonesia with a plan to combat the practice. She took a hard line against ships fishing illegally in their waters, prompting the government to issue a moratorium for foreign fishing vessels within the Indonesian Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ). By prohibiting these activities within the EEZ, it was easier to investigate and evaluate where ships were coming from and to establish strict laws. Indonesia also adopted the practice of capturing illegal fishing vessels and disposing of them by blowing them up. The government has destroyed more than 300 ships since President Widodo launched the battle against fish poaching in 2014, most of them from neighboring countries. Understandably, this has created some tension in the region.
With the goal of sovereignty over their own EEZ, the next steps are to ensure sustainability and prosperity These strict policies and practices have enabled an incredible fish population recovery — the portion of gross domestic product contributed by fisheries rising higher than ever before. With tens of thousands of kilometers of coastline to monitor, Indonesian Coast Guard and policing entities are stretched thin. Ms. Pudjiastuti explained, “This is the struggle point for us right now. We need help, or the milestone we have will be gone.” However, she entreated that if Indonesia can crack down on IUU fishing, other countries can certainly follow their example.