The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry appears to have rowed back on a controversial fishing concession scheme that critics say will result in traditional fishermen being forced to tie up their boats. The scheme, referred to locally as the “cluster system” and originally scheduled for introduction in January, envisaged large-scale fishing companies being awarded exclusive 30-year rights to manage fishing grounds based on tenders. “We will not put the regulation into effect in 2010. We are now gathering input and suggestions from all stakeholders, including fisheries experts, before taking any action,” Minister Freddy Numberi said on Wednesday. Freddy said the idea of introducing the concession was the result of rampant overfishing in many parts of the country. Indonesia has about 11 major fishing grounds, with more than 50 percent of these suffering from overexploitation, he added. The ministry took the view that the best way to prevent this would be to make individual companies responsible for managing their own areas, which would also facilitate monitoring by the ministry. The introduction of a concession scheme is provided for by a 2008 ministry regulation on fisheries management. However, fears have been expressed in many quarters over any such scheme’s potentially adverse consequences for traditional fishermen. Freddy acknowledged that if the scheme was introduced and licences granted to big fishing companies, it would be difficult to withdraw these, even if conflicts developed with traditional fishermen. “We’re not going to rush into making a decision,” Freddy said. “We need to see whether such a system is capable of accommodating traditional fishing communities.” Riza Damanik from the Fisheries Justice Coalition (Kiara), a nongovernmental organization concerned with the rights of traditional fisherfolk, had earlier urged the government to jettison its plan to grant concessions, arguing that these would only benefit big companies. “We can see just how arrogant the central government is in thinking that it can sell fisheries assets to private companies while denying the rights of traditional fishermen,” he said on Tuesday. “Therefore, we would seriously urge the government to withdraw the  regulation as it has the potential to trigger conflict between traditional fishermen and the concessionaires.” He added that the new scheme would force out traditional fishermen from their livelihoods.
Source: Jakarta Globe, 23 July 09, p. section B