Indonesian seafood enforcer wins acclaim even in US

2017-05-13 20:00
Debris flies into the air as foreign fishing boats are blown up by the Indonesian Navy. (File, AP)

Debris flies into the air as foreign fishing boats are blown up by the Indonesian Navy. (File, AP)

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Washington - A high school dropout turned seafood entrepreneur is leading Indonesia's crackdown on illegal fishing, winning plaudits from conservationists and awards as far away as Washington 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.

Helping local fishermen

Susi Pudjiastuti, honoured in Washington for her ecological work in the US a few days ago, 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 haven't eliminated a problem that has plagued the archipelago nation for decades, she said, but they have boosted fish stocks and curbed smuggling.

Catches of anchovies, king prawns and yellow fin tuna are up, helping local fishermen and reducing food prices, Pudjiastuti said.

"What we actually earn also is respect," Pudjiastuti said in the American 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," Pudjiastuti 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 are also 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.

Export produce

Pudjiastuti, 52, has won popularity at home as the campaign's leader, defying initial skepticism when she was tapped as minister in 2014. She had no political experience and hadn't 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 for 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.

Read more on:    indonesia  |  marine life

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