Indonesia's Aggressive Defense of Food Sovereignty: Blowing Up Foreign Fishing Boats

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The explosive tactics of a “seafood enforcer” in Indonesia are garnering acclaim. Susi Pudjiastuti, the Republic of Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister, is protecting Indonesia’s marine ecosystem, while derailing poachers and organized crime, by blowing up empty, foreign vessels.

Her successful efforts to target multi-billion dollar pirate fishing operations recently earned her the 2017 Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in National Stewardship. “She has courageously and audaciously led the blowing up and sinking of more than 200 illegal fishing boats caught poaching—a strong deterrent to organized crime efforts that have invaded and overfished Indonesia’s biologically rich waters for years,” the award site states.

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Pudjiastuti’s crackdown on illegal fishing is helping to sustaining the livelihoods of tens of thousands of domestic fishermen, their families and their communities. “The state's sovereignty has to be upheld,” she declared upon taking office in 2014, announcing a moratorium for foreign vessels that had often operated under Indonesian flags.

Pudjiastuti lead the latest mass-destruction in the name of food sovereignty in early April. Indonesian authorities destroyed 81 empty ships, most from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, in a single weekend, the Associated Press reported.

Indonesia AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File

In this Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti speaks in Washington.

Pudjiastuti's ecological work has also played a vital role in the freeing of slave crews held on many of these foreign vessels, and she’s led the freeing of illegally trapped whale sharks, the AP reported.

The AP recently profiled the 52-year-old “high school dropout turned seafood entrepreneur,” who had no prior political experience when she was elected to her position in 2014. But Pudjiastuti knew the industry inside and out after spending three decades as a seafood entrepreneur and operating her own charter airline, Susi Air, to distribute and export produce.

While her strategy of seizing foreign boats and exploding the empties has not eliminated the pervasive problem in the archipelago of 17,000 islands, it has increased fish stocks and curbed smuggling. As a result, local fishermen are catching more anchovies, king prawns and yellow fin tuna, and prices are dropping, Pudjiastuti told the AP. “What we actually earn also is respect," Pudjiastuti said in Washington D.C. at the annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards — named for the author of “Jaws.”

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