Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Thais allowed to fish off N. Sumatra

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

The North Sumatra legislative council has approved a proposal for Thai vessels to fish in waters off the province, despite increasing complaints from local fishermen about their small catches, which they blame on rampant theft by foreign vessels.

The move was first proposed by the North Sumatra branch of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) to the council's Commission VII on investment.

The approval of the proposal will likely make traditional fishermen in the province suffer further, and could in the end force them to tie up their boats.

Councillors said on Monday that the decision to legalize fishing by Thai fishing vessels was aimed at generating more revenue for the province.

Sigit Pramono Asri, who chairs Commission VII, said the approval for Thai fishermen to enter Indonesian waters could help to significantly reduce the level of poaching in North Sumatra, which has largely been blamed on them.

"It's certainly not designed to provide legitimation for the poachers from Thailand, but we want to take what is our due," Sigit told The Jakarta Post after presiding over a meeting between Commission VII and Kadin executives.

He admitted that the thefts by Thai and other foreign fishing vessels had been continuing unchecked in the waters off the province. Local fishermen accused the security authorities of taking no action against the poachers.

Many of the poachers are often found to be using nets that are banned under Indonesian law.

The foreign trawlers had damaged traditional Indonesian fishermen and fishing businesses, Sigit said.

Hanif Ray, secretary of Commission VII, said the illegal poaching caused more than one Rp 1 trillion in annual losses to North Sumatra.

North Sumatra's Kadin chairman Yopie Batubara said the proposal to legalize fishing by the Thai vessels was so as promote the sort of fishing cooperation that had been discussed several times between the Thai and Indonesian authorities.

The Thai prime minister gave a positive response to such efforts when delegates from Kadin visited Bangkok on May 27, 2003, he added.

Yopie claimed that the central government through the director general of fisheries had orally agreed to the cooperation.

"The program will start with at least 100 fishing vessels from Thailand being allowed to operate off North Sumatra," he said.

He said the project was expected to contribute around Rp 80 billion in annual revenue to North Sumatra, adding that the province had so far been earning only Rp 2 billion annually from the fishing industry.

Yopie said that 51 percent of the funding for the cooperation program would be provided by Thai investors, 19 percent by their North Sumatra counterparts and 30 percent by cooperatives made up of local traditional fishermen.

"Hopefully, 70 percent of fishermen employed by the program will be from Indonesia, with the remaining 30 percent coming from Thailand," he said.

The workers would be paid monthly and receive a bonus in the form of 30 percent of the vessel's catch after operating expenses had been deducted, Yopie added.

Sigit said that to prevent opposition from local fishermen, the relevant authorities should explain the cooperation program transparently to them.

However, he said the council could withdraw its support for the program should it draw strong protests from local fishermen.

H. Syakubat, a local businessman with interests in the fishing sector, lamented the council's approval for Thai fishing off the province.

He specifically rejected the plan to allow 100 Thai trawlers to enter North Sumatran waters as part of the approved program.

"It will be useless to provide more fishing equipment if it is not clear how the fish produced in North Sumatra will be marketed. The government should not permit the operation of trawlers," Syakubat said.