An advocate for local fishing communities claims the government is ignoring a 2010 law on imported fishery products by failing to destroy shipments of illegally imported fish.
Despite an official denial, Riza Damanik, secretary general for the Fisheries Justice Coalition (Kiara), said on Sunday that while the law clearly stated illegally imported fish must be returned to its country of origin within three days or incinerated, the government had failed to do so.
“There are 5,300 tons of illegally imported fish stuck in four ports and one airport, including Tanjung Priok Port, Belawan Port [in Medan, North Sumatra] and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport,” he said. “They’ve been there for a week now. They have not been returned to their country of origin or incinerated.”
Riza said that allowing such fish to be sold in the domestic market posed threats both to local fishermen’s welfare and to consumers’ health in general.
“These illegal imported fish are usually sold for cheaper than local fish. They’re also more widely available across Indonesia.
“If the government continues being inconsistent about enforcing its own law and letting illegal fish be sold in the Indonesian market without any controls, it will be dangerous for public health because there are no institutions to guarantee whether the fish are fit for consumption or not.”
However, Saut Hutagalung, director of international trade at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, denied that the government was not complying with the return-or-incinerate order.
“We need to keep in mind that imported items are also liable to customs regulations, which in the case of rejected items allow the importer a month to return the items — in this case the fish — to the country of origin,” he said.
“We’re coordinating with customs officials on a time frame to return the fish.”
Saut said the ministry had since March 19 seized more than 180 containers of fish at Belawan, Tanjung Priok and Tanjung Perak Port, in Surabaya, believed to have been illegally imported from China and Pakistan.
“Three containers have already been returned,” he said.
“The reason it’s taking so long to return the rest of them is because the importers have to fill out the requisite paperwork. They also have to wait for a spot in the shipping schedule.”
On Tuesday, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Fadel Muhammad said the government would blacklist Chinese companies illegally importing fish to the detriment of local fishermen.
Fadel said he had found “suspicious indications” involving 13 fish importing companies “owned by three or four people,” but declined to give any names.