MIN­IS­TER LOVES

In­done­sian wins US praise for pro­tect­ing coun­try’s fish­ery re­sources

New Straits Times - - World -

WASH­ING­TON D.C.

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

A favourite tac­tic: seiz­ing for­eign fish­ing ves­sels and then blow­ing them up into smithereens to send a mes­sage to her coun­try’s neigh­bours.

Susi Pud­ji­as­tuti, hon­oured this week here for her eco­log­i­cal work, has led the charge in de­stroy­ing hun­dreds of fish­ing ves­sels in the past two years as the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment’s min­is­ter for mar­itime af­fairs and fish­eries.

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

Catches of an­chovies, king prawns and yel­lowfin tuna were up, help­ing lo­cal fish­er­men and re­duc­ing food prices, Susi said.

“What we ac­tu­ally earn also is re­spect,” she said in the United States cap­i­tal, 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 or­gan­ised crime.

“They can­not just do any­thing any­more,” she added.

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 neigh­bours whose boats have been caught up in the drag­net for op­er­at­ing in seas plagued by ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes.

The cam­paign may partly re­flect In­done­sia’s de­sire to show it is in con­trol of its vast ter­ri­tory of 17,000 is­lands.

Susi, 52, has won pop­u­lar­ity at home as the cam­paign’s leader, de­fy­ing ini­tial scep­ti­cism when she was tapped as min­is­ter in 2014.

She had no po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and had not even grad­u­ated high school. But she spent three decades as a seafood en­tre­pre­neur and knew the busi­ness. She also had run her own char­ter air­line, Susi Air, to dis­trib­ute and ex­port pro­duce.

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

“The state’s sovereignty has to be up­held,” she de­clared. And to ram the point home, In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties have sunk more than 300 for­eign fish­ing ves­sels.

In the most re­cent mass-de­struc­tion in April, In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties de­stroyed 81 empty ships in a sin­gle weekend.

Most were from Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Malaysia and Thai­land. In March last year, a Nige­ri­an­flagged ves­sel was caught poach­ing tooth­fish and, af­ter be­ing evac­u­ated, blown up with great fan­fare.

Susi posed on the beach af­ter­ward with navy of­fi­cials, their fists raised in the air with the smok­ing boat be­hind them.

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

She recog­nised, how­ever, 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.

Susi also ac­knowl­edged some ten­sions.

She said she briefed am­bas­sadors of neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, in­clud­ing China, be­fore the crack­down and sought sup­port.

“Poach­ing is not a part of good bi­lat­eral re­la­tions,” she said on Fri­day at Stim­son Cen­ter here .

In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties had another 100 seized fish­ing ves­sels waiting to be de­stroy­ing and they were im­pound­ing another dozen or so each week, she said.

A few were Chi­nese fish­ing ves­sels, which are big­ger, faster and of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by the na­tion’s coast guard, mak­ing it harder to po­lice their ac­tiv­i­ties, she added.

The US and Aus­tralia are pro­vid­ing sup­port to In­done­sia, in­clud­ing satel­lite tech­nol­ogy to help sur­veil­lance of wa­ters. In­done­sia hopes for Ja­panese tech­ni­cal help, too.

In­done­sia is not among the half-dozen gov­ern­ments con­test­ing con­trol of reefs and is­lands in the South China Sea, an emerg­ing Asian flash­point.

But it has rea­son to be wary of China’s claims.

The so-called “nine-dash line” that Bei­jing uses to de­mar­cate its ex­pan­sive ter­ri­to­rial claims ex­tends into In­done­sia’s in­ter­na­tion­ally-recog­nised ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ), that ex­tends 200 nau­ti­cal miles off its coast.

Susi said she was less con­cerned about the sub­tleties over In­done­sia’s stance than her diplo­mat col­leagues.

“For me it’s more clear. Once it’s in my (coun­try’s) EEZ, that’s my (coun­try’s) fish.”

Her mo­ra­to­rium on for­eign fish­ing ves­sels ended up play­ing a piv­otal role in The As­so­ci­ated Press’ “Seafood from Slaves” in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which in 2015 found that more than 2,000 for­eign fish­er­men had been en­slaved aboard Thai ves­sels based on the re­mote In­done­sian is­land of Ben­jina, catch­ing seafood bound for con­sumers in the US and other coun­tries.

The mo­ra­to­rium grounded fish­ing boats that nor­mally would have been al­most con­stantly at sea, giv­ing re­porters the op­por­tu­nity to find the en­slaved fish­er­men.

She also dis­patched a task force to Ben­jina, res­cu­ing hun­dreds of the abused work­ers.

In a mod­er­ate Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­try, where re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives have grow­ing po­lit­i­cal clout, Susi has de­fied con­ven­tional gen­der roles. She is di­vorced, smokes and has a tat­too.

She even in­spired a char­ac­ter in one of Ja­pan’s most re­puted manga books, Golgo 13.

In one strip, a woman in a beret and sun­glasses had an un­mis­tak­able re­sem­blance to Susi.

She was de­picted over­see­ing the de­struc­tion of fish­ing boats, blown asun­der with a “BOOM”. AP

AP PIC

De­bris fly­ing into the air as for­eign fish­ing boats are blown up by the In­done­sian Navy off Batam Is­land on Feb 22 last year.

Susi Pud­ji­as­tuti

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