Indonesia’s Fisheries Minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, leads the way to Ocean Sustainability

Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, has built up quite a reputation based on her outgoing, no-nonsense attitude and far-reaching success as a female entrepreneur—not to mention her tattoos. She flies planes, founded a charter airline company and seafood export business, and considers herself an environmental and social activist.

Minister Susi Pudjiastuti addresses a packed house at Hopkins Marine Station
Minister Susi Pudjiastuti addresses a packed house at Hopkins Marine Station.

The Center for Ocean Solutions hosted an event this week as part of Susi’s Ministerial visit to the U.S., which was coordinated by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Susi spoke to a packed crowd at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University in Monterey, CA about her role in managing Indonesia’s oceans. She said that her mission as Minister is to increase Indonesia’s seafood exports while curbing illegal and unsustainable fishing. Her government’s main goals are sovereignty, sustainability and prosperity.

She uses strong measures to protect Indonesia’s fisheries, including targeting and sinking illegal fishing boats —an act that is endorsed by the country’s legislation and supported by much of the public. Some Indonesian fishermen have even slyly referred to her as a ‘gangster’ since she started enforcing stricter fishing regulations and reducing government subsidies. Nevertheless, Susi recently won the highest approval rating of any Indonesian Minister, at a whopping 61% (she was the only Minister to receive an approval rating above 50%).

At the same time, Susi tries to work closely on the ground with fishermen to understand their needs and build trust through open communication. Her goal is to help local fishing industries expand in a responsible way by slowly eliminating the unsustainable illegal fishing that has occurred historically.

“You can’t make all stakeholders happy,” Susi explained, “so I have to make policy on behalf of the majority.”

Susi issued a moratorium on all new fishing licenses within days of taking office, and banned the practice of transferring catches at sea; a practice that makes it very difficult to track and regulate fisheries. She also helped craft restrictions for lobster and crab fisheries, such as banning the catch of females with eggs and instating minimize size restrictions. She demanded that all available fisheries data, including vessel license information, be posted publicly online to increase transparency and reduce corruption.

Since she’s implemented stronger fisheries policies, Susi estimates that Indonesia has eliminated at least 5,000 illegal boats from their waters, potentially saving over 5 million tons of seafood catch. At the same time, the domestic fisheries industry is showing steady growth—about 9% in the last quarter. Susi’s mission seems to be getting a fast foothold.

“Change is what attracted me to this job,” Susi said. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, whose appointment of Susi in October 2014, first came as a surprise to many, has built his platform on change—environmental, economic, and social. “It will be a long journey,” Susi admitted, citing that government corruption and lack of resources will be persistent challenges. But she is determined to cultivate good governance and incentives for sustainable community fisheries.

“The world’s future is in the ocean, but only if we can take care of it,” Susi said “We hope that other countries will support the changes our country is making because these changes will bring positive outcomes not just to Indonesia, but also to the world.”


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