Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF) is a major issue throughout the Arafura Timor Seas (ATS) region. In the Aru Islands of Maluku province, the ATSEA-2 Project and its partners are working alongside local communities to build up surveillance and strengthen defences. Uniquely, traditional community monitoring groups, called pokmaswas, are leading the way, using customary laws and regulations for resource management and surveillance.

Covering an area of 114,000 ha, the Southeast Aru Islands were designated as a Marine Nature Reserve in 1991 through the Decree of the Minister of Forestry Number 72/Kpts-II/1991. In March 2009, the management of this area was transferred to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) through the official report number BA.01/Menhut-IV/2009–BA.108/MEN.KP/III/2009. Later that year, on 3 September 2009, the Southeast Aru Marine Nature Reserve (SAP Aru) was established in the archipelago, according to the Decree of the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Number: Kep. 63/MEN/2009.

As part of ongoing efforts to increase surveillance of marine resources within the SAP Aru area, DFW Indonesia is collaborating with UNDP and ATSEA-2 to fight IUUF in the region. This involves strengthening monitoring, controlling and surveillance for SAP Aru; as part of this process, pokmaswas (a portmanteau, blending the Indonesian words for ‘community monitoring group’ – kelompok masyarakat pengawas) is being set up in one of the villages on the Aru Islands, namely the village of Karey.

A socialisation event for the establishment of a pokmaswas in Karey village was held on 8 March 2022. The meeting was chaired by the village head and attended by several representatives of the local community, including leaders, traditional elders, fishermen, village government and the village representative body. This community has traditionally relied on customary resource management and enforcement, known as petuanan, to keep the peace and maintain balance in the ecosystem. Now, with modern developments in IUUF, these groups are looking for help to expand and strengthen their approach.

“Most of the SAP area is the petuanan area of Karey village,” explained Rajab Tuburpon, who is the head of Karey village. “To date, many people from other villages have entered Jeh Island to poach the turtles and their eggs,” he added, noting that his party is very supportive of the initiative to establish a pokmaswas in Karey Village, which will offer a complaint and information system and respond to public complaints regarding cases of fisheries violations in the SAP Aru area. Here, taking turtles and their eggs is against the customary rules of Karey Village and is also a crime according to state law in Maluku.

For generations, the people of the Aru Islands have managed their resources effectively, ensuring that harvesting or fishing for food and ceremonial purposes is sustainable. “From a customary perspective, catching turtles and dugongs is a ritual and has an impact on fisheries catches in our area,” explained Rajab at the meeting. With the arrival of industrial fishing from outside the region, these species are suddenly under threat. That is why his party and his community welcomes the involvement of DFW Indonesia through the ATSEA-2 Project, which is helping to strengthen the community surveillance group in Karey Village.

DFW Indonesia facilitator, Iriansyah, noted that a pokmaswas had been formed earlier in 2015, but were inactive, largely because it didn’t have the backing of local government. Moving forward, and with the group officially recognised by law, he hopes they will be more active and more influential in the fight against IUUF. The formation of a pokmaswas in Karey Village was carried out according to the Regulation of the Director General of Surveillance for Marine and Fisheries Resources No.5/2021 concerning the Guidance of Community Supervisory Groups in the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Sector.

The formation of a new pokmaswas in SAP Aru is an important step towards protecting the area’s natural marine resources from IUUF. Crucially, it represents a combination of traditional, community-based surveillance, backed up by official legal authority from the local government. In this way, communities, governments and stakeholders have joined forces with the ATSEA-2 Project and its partners, to form a united front against one of the main threats to the ATS region; finding traditional, collaborative solutions to a very modern problem.

(by Iriansyah – DFW Indonesia Facilitator)