At 3 a.m. every day, Nining and her husband, Abdul Haris, fill a bucket with fish from a drying rack. Soon after, Abdul loads the bucket on his two-tonne wooden boat and begins his day as a fisher. The fish are the bait for the blue swimmer crab (BSC). The couple, based in the East Java town of Pamekasan are among the 90,000 fishers from across the country who specialize in catching the crab species, called rajungan in Bahasa Indonesia.

“My husband has been catching rajungan for more than 10 years, “Nining says while she helps her children pack their bags for school. “We sell the crabs to nearby cooking stations who then send them on to small scale processing plants to sort the cooked crab meat,” she continues.

Indonesia’s Blue Swimming Crab Association (APRI), whose members are mostly crab meat processors, works with their supply chain to improve management and fishery practices of BSC. In 2018, UNDP/BAPPENAS’s Global Marine Commodities Project collaborated with APRI which also works with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, to support Suparman and his fellow fishers to initiate a conservation program which works on capacity building and ensures compliance with catch-size regulation, and restocking. They also implement a catch recording system in a control document to trace the source of each product.

Each day, after the school run, Nining rides her motorcycle to the Jumiang Indah processing plant where, as a crab picker she, like 85,000 women like her across the country, removes the meat from the crab for distribution to the approximately 500 small processing plants scattered throughout Indonesia’s coastline. From there, the meat is sent to larger processing plants to be prepared for export—predominantly to the United States.

Indeed, Nining and Abdul Haris are among thousands of fishers who work to ensure the crabs from Indonesia is safe, fresh, and sustainable.

Sustainably sourced seafood has become more than a catch phrase in the fisheries sector and with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening the very foundation of the global economy and food supply, the need to choose sustainably sourced seafood is even greater. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 reports that 78.7 per cent of seafood comes from ecologically sustainable seafood populations, while the percentage of overfished fisheries has gone up slightly to 34.2 per cent from 33.1 in the last update in 2018.

The report also noted that “In general, intensively managed fisheries have seen decreases in average fishing pressure and increases in stock biomass, with some reaching biologically sustainable levels.” Countries or regions that intensely manage their fisheries have healthy and improving stocks, which highlights an “urgent need to replicate and re-adapt successful policies and measures in the light of the realities in specific fisheries”.

This should be the global cause moving forward.

“We should spearhead efforts to ensure rajungan does not become extinct and disappear from Pamekasan’s waters. Rajungan is our livelihood, our kids’ future depends on it” said Suparman, coordinator of a crab fisher group called Berkah Capit Biru (meaning blessing from blue claw) with 20 members in Pamekasan.

“We need to reach out to all BSC fishers in Pamekasan, including fishers from neighbour regions” Suparman says as he installs equipment from SFP which helps assist APRI to trace and track fishing activity. “It might be hard, but this is our only option,” he says. Seafood Watch, a seafood rating system that can be accessed online, places Indonesia’s BSC fisheries in the “avoid” list, a relatively major upset in the competitive global crabmeat market. The rating follows evidence that stock is undergoing overfishing, with an ineffective management because a plan to manage blue swimming crab has not been implemented at the national level and it needs strengthening in several areas, and no evidence of effort to assess the impact on the ecosystem.

In early March 2020, before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Edhy Prabowo launched the Harvest Strategy for BSC for areas around the Java Sea, which contributes nearly 50% BSC to national production. This harvest strategy— the first of its kind in Indonesia—aims to maintain and/or improve reproductive capacity and ensure sustainability of the blue swimming crab industry.

“Launching the BSC Harvest Strategy was a step forward in the management of the fisheries industry in Indonesia,” says Iwan Kurniawan, Technical Officer at UNDP Indonesia’s NRM Programme. “The Harvest Strategy will help all stakeholders to plan ahead as it is designed to be responsive to changes that may occur over time.”

With the Harvest Strategy, the objectives of the fisheries industry are set out, and the volume of fish caught during a given fishing season is monitored. More importantly, strategies provide transparency for stakeholders (who include fishers, the community at large, industry, scientists and managers) about the management of the fisheries.

While the journey towards sustainability might be long, Indonesia has shown progressive effort, even achieving an ‘A’ grade in, an one stop-shop for information that monitors the progress of fishery improvement projects globally.

The COVID-19 pandemic might have affected lives of Nining, Abdul Haris, Suparman and thousands of other fishers and pickers, even the industry. However, we know that intensive fisheries management works, and Indonesia has established policies for start building a sustainable blue swimming crab fisheries. Indonesia is also able to make choices to build better fisheries.

Writing by Jensi Sartin

Edited by Ranjit Jose and Suryo Tomi

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