COVID-19 and the fishing industry

May 4, 2020

Below is an interview with Nono Sumarsono, Project Director of Safeguarding Against and Addressing Fishers’ Exploitation at Sea (SAFE Seas), a U.S. Department of Labor-funded Plan International project in Indonesia and the Philippines.

What is the effect of COVID-19 on the fishing industry in Indonesia?

Indonesia is a country with 3,351 million square kilometers of marine area, which includes a continental shelf. Almost six million square kilometers of Indonesia’s marine area is zoned for fishing, which helps make Indonesia the second largest producer of fish in the world and the leading producer of tuna. Since 2015, Indonesia has had significant success in reducing illegal, unreported and undocumented fishing. This has led to an increase in fish stocks for the country.

COVID-19 has resulted in reduced demand for fish globally, by nearly 50%. In addition, many countries are not allowing fish to be imported. This has created several logistical barriers to getting Indonesian fish to key markets. Many fishing companies have had to temporarily close operations. This is affecting thousands of fish workers along the supply chain.

While many countries closed their fishing ports and temporarily stopped fishing activities when COVID-19 reached their shores, Indonesia did not impose these types of restrictions. According to the Indonesia Ministry of Marine and Fisheries, fishing industry production has remained stable. This reflects the reality that fishing activities are still active. Indonesia is viewing the decrease in fish supplies globally as an economic opportunity and hopes to fill the gaps that limited or decreased production in other counties has caused.

Indonesian fishing vessels are working at full force. Fishing ships are at high risk for the spread of COVID-19 due to cramped living conditions and poor hygiene opportunities. For the most part, workers are not supplied with proper protective gear while on ships. While there have been cases where local health officials have made COVID-19-positive fish workers self-quarantine for 14 days before they are allowed to go home, this can be difficult to enforce.

What are your recommendations for the fishing industry in light of COVID-19?

The above-mentioned situation was among the topics discussed during a recent online discussion titled “On Impact and Prevention of COVID-19 to Fisherman and Fish Workers in Indonesia.” This was held by Plan International and Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW), in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine and Fisheries (MMAF), FAO Indonesia and North Sulawesi Provincial Office for Fisheries. Several suggestions were put forth to protect fish workers.

  1. Implement health protocols on fishing vessels with a focus on protecting fishers.
  2. Require boat captains and crew members to have a health examination before entering a vessel. Those who test negative for COVID-19 will be allowed to continue fishing.
  3. Require a mandatory occupational safety health inspection to ensure minimum health standards for facilities and supplies are available and functioning on all vessels.
  4. Require fishers to be covered by health insurance during each trip and for up to one month following their return.
  5. Ensure the gains made on illegal, unreported and undocumented fishing are not reversed.
  6. Track fishing to ensure Indonesia is not over-fishing its supply.

Based on this event, the MMAF is drafting a policy to implement health protocols on fishing vessels. I am excited to see this initiative taking place and to see the rights and health of fish workers being taken seriously. SAFE Seas is grateful to help the MMAF draft the policy.


Disclaimer: Funding for this project is provided by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) under cooperative agreement IL-31472-17-75-K. This material does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the USDOL, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.


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