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School of yellowfin tuna
Yellowfin tuna fish swim in large groups looking for their prey such as large schools of ocean herring fish.

In Indonesia, A Vulnerable Fishery Gains New Protections

August 1, 2023
The government managing the world’s largest tuna fishery takes a major step toward sustainability

When it comes to global fisheries, there’s no way to talk about tuna without talking about Indonesia.

Nomadic by nature, tuna is also – remarkably – warm-blooded. It’s a rare trait that unshackles the species from water temperature, allowing the fish to range freely across the world’s oceans.

But when it’s time to spawn, the rich tuna stocks in the Indian and Pacific oceans return to the shallow, nutrient-rich Indonesian Archipelago, an ideal environment for tuna growth and reproduction.

Its geographic position has made Indonesia a vital spawning ground for tuna, responsible for around 20% of the global catch. In 2021, the country produced 791,000 metric tons, including skipjack, yellowfin and mackerel tuna. The largest wild-caught seafood export, tuna is an important economic driver for the country, netting nearly $1.5 billion the same year.

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A fisherman holds tuna caught in the waters near the Indonesian island of Buru. Indonesia is the largest tuna fishery in the world, responsible for around 20% of the global catch.

From large purse seiners that operate away from the coast, to the small-scale individuals who catch one fish at a time with hand lines and poles, tuna plays a role in the lives and livelihoods of many Indonesians.

So many competing fishers and the absence of a robust management plan has resulted in overfishing and a reduction in stocks. In many of the country’s fishing grounds, tuna is now fully exploited, resulting not only in harm to the environment, but the local communities that rely on the resource.

Protecting a fishery with such a wide ocean habitat is complex. It requires regional cooperation between governments, industry and nonprofit groups. But inside territorial waters, countries have a responsibility to protect their sovereign fisheries, and can act more quickly to protect ocean resources and the communities they support.

Indonesia's new tuna harvest strategy is an exemplary model of sustainability leadership on a global scale.

In Indonesia, that’s exactly what has happened. Following nearly a decade of collaboration with local and regional fisheries stakeholders, the Indonesian government has announced a new harvest strategy for tuna in its archipelagic waters. The strategy, once implemented, will progressively cut its tuna catch volume by 10% of the 2021 level over the course of three years. It’s a major milestone and an exemplary model of sustainability leadership on a global scale.

To get there, the government plans to up its data collection and monitoring efforts and better enforce new and existing regulations. It will work to educate local populations on the benefits of conservation and selectively close fishing grounds to maintain greater balance in the stocks.

Led by the Indonesian government, the development and launch of the strategy received support from the Tuna Consortium, a group of organizations working to build a strong enabling environment to sustainably manage Indonesian tuna fisheries.

Currently, the consortium is managed by Resonance Global, and includes experts from MDPI, YKAN, Marine Change, Fair Trade USA and the International Pole & Line Foundation. Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation also provided technical guidance and advice to the Indonesian government during this process.

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A fisherman pulls in a tuna caught near the Indonesian island of Sanana. Indonesia's new tuna management strategy aims to protect the species by reducing catch volume by 10% over three years.

Yasmine Simbolon is Director of MDPI. She says that a harvest strategy is crucial for the protection of the global tuna fishery. It can also help small-scale fishers reach international markets.

“Tuna serves as a lifeline for millions of people in Indonesia, small-scale fishers in remote areas who rely on tuna catches for their livelihoods. A harvest strategy is a recognized best practice in fisheries management, and it is also required for international market certification through programs like the Marine Stewardship Council,” she says. “With sustainability principles also comes market access, market stability and more predictable stocks.”

Indonesia’s harvest strategy also has positive implications beyond its borders. Neighboring countries rely on the same stocks of tuna for their economy and as an available and abundant source of protein.

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Fair Trade tuna fishers display their catch.

And it provides consumers in Japan, Europe and the U.S. – the largest consumers of seafood worldwide – greater confidence that the tuna they buy is sourced responsibly and supports the health of global fish stocks.

This confidence is more important than ever. Recent research suggests that 82% of Americans agree that we have a responsibility to ensure a steady supply of sustainable seafood for future generations.

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A fisherman unloads a yellowfin tuna at a landing site on the Indonesian island of Lombok.

The focus moving forward for Tuna Consortium partners will be to ensure the right conditions are in place for the government to lead the successful implementation of the harvest strategy, and develop approaches for both the large and small-scale fishing industry to support improved management.

Through this new commitment, the Indonesian government has signaled to the rest of the world that they are taking critical steps to save its vulnerable fisheries, steps that will ultimately protect its fish and the people who rely on them for decades to come.

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