Fishermen unload a tuna fish from a boat at Ulee Lheu Port in Banda Aceh, Aceh, on Wednesday. FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture data shows that in 2018 Indonesia had the largest commercial catch of tuna in the world, contributing 16 percent to the global tuna market. (Antara/Irwansyah Putra)

Int'l - Salvaging fisheries sector during pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to considerable challenges the Indonesian government must face to care for and protect the more than 260 million people spread across the country’s 17,000 plus islands, as well as to safeguard the country’s growing economy. The marine and fisheries sector has been one of the hardest hit, affecting 3.5 million fishers, not to mention fish farmers and those working throughout the supply chain.

With many countries implementing lockdown measures that limit the movement of goods and people, supply chains for various commodities, in both the domestic and international markets, have been put to the test. Like other sectors, the main issue facing the fisheries sector is an abundance of supply and reduced market access. Closures in the food and related industries have further exacerbated the situation. The result is the piling up of fish products both from capture and aquaculture fisheries.

To make matters worse, access to cold chain infrastructure, including such services as supply of ice and cold storage, are limited for many small-scale fishers, be it in coastal cities or remote fishing villages. This has resulted in degraded fish quality and plenty of fish catches being wasted and perishing.

Everyone in the supply chain is certainly weathering some impact. Industry actors have noted that fishing activities have either stopped or been significantly reduced due to the low demand. On one end of the chain are those most affected by the uncertainties, the fishers and processors, whose livelihoods are under immediate threat. However, the fishing industry is also vulnerable and is relied upon by its staff and association members.

During these difficult times, some in fishery communities have pursued alternative livelihoods. According to a survey by the NGO RARE, some fishers have chosen to take up other activities to support themselves such as farming, becoming construction workers or processing salted and dried fish. Although the government, industry players, NGOs and other key stakeholders have been very proactive during the crisis, decision makers must be cognizant of the fact that the impacts of COVID-19 will continue to permeate the whole industry long after the worst is over.

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