Credit by Jefta Images/Barcroft Media | The Indonesian navy blows up an illegal fishing boat in North Sumatra on Feb. 22, 2016
Meet Indonesia’s New Weapon to Crackdown Illegal Fishing
DEFENCE Indonesia

Meet Indonesia’s New Weapon to Crackdown Illegal Fishing

Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti deals with some dangerous men in her role, but they do not rattle her. She has an equally intimidating weapon on her side: Google.

By partnering the search engine, Ms Susi is catching illegal fishing activity in real time, after thousands of vessels' locations were revealed online.

In her mission to clean up the fisheries industry, she has convinced powerful local operators with foreign interests to stop practices that were robbing the economy of billions of dollars of revenue each year.

Image: ANTARA/Hafidz Mubarak A
Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Image: ANTARA/Hafidz Mubarak A

"You have money, you have power, you have the reach, probably to make me fail or to even basically eliminate me," Ms Susi recalls telling the industry's so-called "godfathers" in meetings shortly after joining President Joko Widodo's government in 2014. "But I also will not stop."

At that time, there were some 10,000 foreign vessels fishing illegally in Indonesia's territory.

Traditional radar can be ineffective due to the terrain, but that has not stopped Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti from finding a solution.

That is where Google comes in. Google co-founded Global Fishing Watch in 2016 in partnership with Oceana and SkyTruth. Instead of ground-based detection methods, Google is using its satellites and software capabilities to spot illegal fishermen from space.

Image: Bloomberg
Image: Bloomberg

Through the help of Google and the fishing watch platform, more than 5,000 boats have been located that were previously invisible to local detection systems.

The service now displays boat locations in Indonesian waters for all to see. Having such data available makes is significantly easier to track the underground supply chains that are taking away valuable resources from the region.

"They still steal from us. We see it on Google's Global Fishing Watch," Ms Susi said.

Indonesian Navy has hunted down violators and blown up their boats in public spectacles. 

Detik reported, in 2015, Indonesia marked its Independence Day celebrations by sinking about 38 foreign fishing vessels, mostly from Vietnam but also from China. It was an overt display aimed at sending a message: the nation intended to protect its lucrative fishing grounds, including in the South China Sea.

Indonesian Navy blows up 6 foreign fishing vessel caught fishing illegally in Batam. Image:  Sijori Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Indonesian Navy blows up 6 foreign fishing vessel caught fishing illegally in Batam. Image: Sijori Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Since the end of 2014, Pudjiastuti has sunk more than 350 boats.

The hunt is paying off: Indonesia's fish stocks have more than doubled in two years, and an industry that has been plundered by foreigners for decades is once again contributing to economic growth.

In a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, the potential is vast. 

According to Bloomberg, the fishing industry accounts for 2.6 percent of Indonesia's gross domestic product. Although still a small percentage, this amount has grown by over 40 percent since 2014.


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