January 10, 2018 / 10:32 AM / 9 months ago

Indonesian minister urged to stop destroying illegal fishing boats

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Senior government and business officials on Wednesday urged Indonesia’s fisheries minister to stop blowing up foreign boats caught fishing illegally, saying the policy could hurt diplomatic ties and the fisheries industry.

FILE PHOTO - Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti speaks at an event at the Defence Ministry about stepping up the country's efforts to protect its waters from illegal fishing, in Jakarta May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Under the popular minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia has destroyed hundreds of foreign illegal vessels since 2014, among them Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese boats, in an effort to protect domestic fish stocks and fishermen.

But Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the policy could affect relations with other countries.

“In the view of the government, it’s enough already,” Kalla said, in comments reported by the daily newspaper Kompas and confirmed by his spokesman. “This concerns our relations with other countries.”

In 2015, China expressed “serious concern” when one of its fishing vessels was among 41 blown up by Indonesia.

The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce complained on Tuesday that the approach and what it termed a lack of focus on constructive policies had damaged the fisheries industry, with exports of fishing products declining.

“We ask the government to pay attention to the production aspects ... and to raising investment in the sector,” said a senior chamber member, Yugi Prayanto.

Pudjiastuti has consistently ranked as Indonesia’s most popular minister since taking office in 2014, largely because of her robust approach to tackling illegal fishing and her rags-to-riches story.

The outspoken minister has also won a large following on social media for candid posts and photographs showing her paddle boarding or dancing to the Beatles aboard a ship.

A former fisheries entrepreneur, Pudjiastuti defended the policy in a video uploaded to YouTube, saying it was not her “trademark” policy but rather mandated by the law.

“This is not an idea ... or hobby of Susi Pudjiastuti or President Jokowi,” she said, using the president’s nickname.

“President Jokowi ordered the government to execute the fisheries law so that the massive theft of Indonesia’s fish can end.”

The fishing industry suffers losses of nearly 200 billion rupiah (£11.04 million) every year because of illegal fishing, according to Pudjiastuti.

Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe and Kanupriya Kapoor; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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