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Counter-Productive Illegal Fishing Policies?

January 14, 2015

There’s a good article out today at The Guardian on Indonesia’s recently imposed policies to stop illegal fishing in its waters. I’ve been following this with some fascination after the Indonesian Navy rather dramatically blew up two illegal fishing vessels (great photos at the link).

This follows after Indonesia’s new president Joko Widodo and fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastutistated announced that illegal fishing, especially that led by Thai fishers illegally entering Indonesian waters, was a national problem.

Indonesia’s popular new president Joko Widodo has publicly stated there are 5,000 foreign fishing boats operating illegally in Indonesian waters, costing the local fishing industry US$24bn (£16bn).

The bulk of the new measures relate to banning transhipment and putting a temporary halt to issuing new fishing licenses:

One of Pudjiastuti’s first moves has been to introduce a six-month moratorium on issuing new fishing licenses and renewals so that the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) can monitor the operations of existing fleets. Transhipments at sea – where smaller boats offload their catch on to larger foreign vessels with cold storage facilities – have also been banned, in a bid to prevent neighbouring countries from siphoning off fish illegally.

All this is fine and dandy, but some of these measures are going to really hurt legal businesses, and small-scale fishers are a particular concern. Here’s Andrew Harvey, a sustainable fisheries adviser for USAID”

“The problem is the small scale fishing businesses that are unintended targets of these laws…Many of these are good, sustainable operations that don’t have the resources to weather a long delay in fishing,” says Harvey. “There are small-scale pole and line tuna businesses in East Flores that purchased their vessels from Japanese or Korean manufacturers. Because the boats are built overseas, vessels whose annual fishing license is up for renewal will be unable to fish for the next six months.” Meanwhile, the ban on transhipment means that pole and line boats that usually stay out at sea for weeks will have to ferry their catch back to Indonesian ports, resulting in a crippling increase in fuel costs.

It seems to me that these policies might ultimately lead these small-scale fishers to illegal fishing themselves. When confronted with the choice to comply or perish, how do you think a fisher will respond? And is that good for the long-run? According to behavioral economics, cheating on one rule can make the next cheat that much easier. And what happens to the legitimacy of a government, something that importantly inspires voluntary compliance, when it imposes such an unfair measure? This will be an interesting story to follow.

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