Mon, 26 Jun 2000

Govt attacked for neglecting fishing

JAKARTA (JP): The Association of Indonesian Fishing Companies (Gappindo) has criticized the government for its lack of concern about promoting the country's lagging fishing industry.

Gappindo executive Bambang Suboko said here on Saturday that the government often talked too much about the prospects of the sector but failed to take concrete action to make the sector attractive to investors.

"There is not a single sign of concern made during the Cabinet meetings," Bambang said in a discussion on the future of the country's fishery industry held by information provider for fisheries development Datafish.

According to Bambang, the difficulty in raising investment funds remained the core problem for investors in entering into fishing activities.

The government should find alternative financing because the country's crippled banking system was still too weak to finance the fishery sector, he said.

Though no data was available on how much the industry was spending on expansion plans, Bambang said that declining fish exports indicated the absence of any investments.

Without the capital to at least sustain the current production level, it was difficult for the industry to meet export demands, he explained.

For instance, he said, in 1999 frozen tuna exports to Japan dropped by 58 percent down to 17,000 metric tons from 29,300 tons the previous year.

He said Japan accounted for some 60 percent of Indonesia's total export market, worth US$2 billion in 1998, which itself dropped by 15 percent compared to 1997's export value.

"We have already lost our number one position as Japan's fish supplier long since 1997," Bambang said.

Whereas Norway, he said, was able to generate $2 billion per year from the export of salmon alone, for which it had invested $600 million over a period of 10 years.

However, instead of solving the need for capital, he said, the government was paying more attention to the issue of illegal foreign fishing.

Unfortunately, according to him, the intensity of illegal fishers operating had remained relative stable over the past few years despite the government's many talks on the issue.

Bambang said that if Indonesia owned a large fishing fleet, it would help prevent foreign ships from penetrating Indonesian waters.

"We have to face them (illegal foreign fishers) economically instead of relying on more security from the Navy," he said.

But expanding the country's fishing fleet called for more capital, which the government should help facilitate, he added.

Economist Didik J. Rachbini suggested that the government provides financing facilities to the fishing industry.

"Fishers would then be able to buy new ships with low interest payments and/or fiscal incentives," Didik said.

He acknowledged that the government's macroeconomic policies were behind the difficulties in obtaining capital for the fishing industry.

Director General for Fisheries at the Ministry of Maritime Exploration Untung Wahyono said that the expansion of the fishing industry dependent largely on the restructuring of the banking sector.

Wavering security was another crucial factor that deterred local and foreign investments, he said, adding that owners of shrimps ponds and other cultivation sites were facing continued threats from looters. (bkm)