Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing endangers marine biodiversity in the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region, while also threatening the livelihoods of fishers in littoral nations. Last year, a report by the ATSEA-2 Programme highlighted the need for improved surveillance, to ensure fisheries legislation is implemented effectively3. Today, authorities In Merauke, Papua are leading the way; educating communities, prosecuting those who break the law and sparking a concerted response to the problem of IUU fishing.

At the PSDKP headquarters in Merauke, catches are weighed and measured to ensure full compliance with laws and regulations. Those who break the rules are punished to the fullest extent of the law. Image credit: Chris Alexander for the ATSEA-2 Programme

In Merauke, as with elsewhere, surveillance can be challenging, due to the number of vessels and the vastness of marine areas. This is further exacerbated by financial/technical constraints experienced by the authorities. However, in spite of these obstacles, the Marine Fisheries Resources Surveillance Unit (PSDKP) in Merauke is making significant progress in the fight against IUU. One of the agencies under the directorate general of fisheries resources supervision of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), the PSDKP office oversees fishing operations in the region, to ensure laws and regulations are obeyed in the field of fisheries and marine affairs.

“We take action,” says Fajar Suryo Pratama, supervisor and coordinator of the PSDKP in Merauke. His team takes a three-pronged approach in carrying out surveillance: “first, we provide education to the public; second, we conduct joint patrols alongside other agencies that have authority in the maritime sector; and third, if we discover violations, [we ensure] punitive action is taken to the fullest extent of the law.”

Under the watchful eye of Pratama and the PSDKP, all vessels passing through Merauke have their cargo measured to assess the number and types of fish captured, along with the fishing gear that was used, how many days were spent at sea, the syndicates involved and whether they have the proper documentation in place. Various other details are logged into the PSDKP system to ensure all fishers operating in Merauke’s waters are in full compliance with MMAF laws and regulations.

And these sanctions are having an impact. In March 2021, a vessel set off from Merauke without the proper documentation, reportedly to engage in IUU fishing. Following a criminal investigation that involved cooperation between multiple agencies, the case resulted in a conviction for the ship’s captain. According to Pratama, prosecutions are “an effective form of deterrent, [demonstrating] that all ships must be equipped with the appropriate legal documentation,” thereby setting an example for others to follow and demonstrating the severity of consequences for those who break the law.

We take action.” Fajar Suryo Pratama, supervisor and coordinator of the PSDKP in Merauke, is working to combat IUU fishing through a combination of education, enforcement and collaboration between authorities. Image credit: Chris Alexander for the ATSEA-2 Programme

The biggest challenge facing the PSDKP is coordination between the various littoral nations and authorities responsible for eradicating IUU from the ATS region. That’s why the new coordination forum, established to tackle violations of fisheries law in Papua, represents such a positive step forward; by collaborating with a wider network of agencies, authorities and local stakeholders, authorities have more surveillance capacity, can wield greater power and ultimately offer a wider scope of influence in the ATS region.

Looking to the future, Pratama believes collaboration holds the key to stopping IUU. “The more we coordinate, the more institutions will have authority to act in the marine and fisheries sector,” he explains. “This means all of us – from governments to NGOs, fishing communities and the PSDKP itself – must work together to have a positive impact,” he added.

Through socialisation, collaboration and enforcement, PSDKP is working to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks and livelihoods in Merauke and beyond. The ATSEA-2 Programme is committed to supporting these efforts; since its inception in 2019, the Programme has been working alongside national authorities and local stakeholders to promote sustainable development; by facilitating cooperation at the international level, ATSEA-2 is having a positive impact on local communities and helping to stamp out IUU in the ATS region.

(Chris Alexander)

[3] Arie Afriansyah, Akhmad Solihin, Amira Bilqis, Jeremia Humolong Prasetya (2021). Collaborative Surveillance Best Practices and Lessons Learned Against IUU Fishing. Report to the Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Project Phase 2 (ATSEA-2). Centre for Sustainable Ocean Policy, Faculty of Law Universitas Indonesia, Indonesia. 25pp