Indonesia has announced plans to celebrate its independence day by sinking over 70 seized fishing boats.
The country's popular fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, said that vessels from Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam captured and seized for alleged illegal fishing will be sunk as artificial reefs on August 17.
Many of the vessels were captured in the vicinity of the strategic Natuna Islands, whose territorial sea limits impinge on China's "nine-dash line" claim to most of the South China Sea. While the vessels to be reefed in August are not Chinese, Indonesian forces have clashed with Chinese fishing and Coast Guard vessels in the area. Indonesia is actively promoting the growth of its own fishing fleet based in Natuna.
Under Pudjiastuti, who is also the owner of a seafood export company, the fisheries ministry has already burnt, blown up or sank over 170 illegal fishing vessels – including the last of the infamous "Bandit Six" blacklisted toothfish boats, the Viking. Indonesia's president Joko Widodo has described the enforcement method as "shock therapy."
The ministry has also banned the use of seine nets and trawls and has closed the crab and lobster fishery.
Malaysian authorities have closely observed the success of their neighbor's two-year campaign to reduce overfishing, and on Tuesday, the Malaysian minister of agriculture, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, said that his nation would follow suit. “We noticed that Indonesia’s radical measures against poaching had contributed to deflation and lowered fish prices due to bountiful catches,” he told reporters.
Malaysia intends to sink captured vessels as reefs rather than blowing them up.
Cheek added that Malaysian fishermen were on their own if they trespassed into foreign waters, and that they must maintain awareness of their own positions. In addition to seizing and destroying boats, Indonesian authorities have prosecuted hundreds of trespassing fishermen, so many that the government recently broke ground on a new detention center specifically intended for housing them.
Cheek’s comments were made on the sidelines of a regional fisheries summit in Jakarta. The conference aimed to “stimulate a broad discussion on fisheries reform across South-East Asia and the adjacent Western Pacific” to address overfishing.