THE decision by Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo opening the door to exports of lobster larvae is a grave error.
Not only will it cause the state to potentially lose foreign exchange revenue from this lucrative sector, but it is also fair to suspect that it will only benefit a small number of people who happen to be close to the minister.
Edhy must immediately revoke Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry Regulation No. 12/2020 which was issued on May 5. As a result of this regulation, exports of lobster larvae, which were banned in the era of minister Susi Pudjiastuti, will once again flow freely. Larvae, or lobsters weighing less than 200 grams with carapaces shorter than eight centimeters, which in the past had to be cultivated in this country, can now be freely sold overseas.
With this regulation by Minister Edhy, the positive achievements of our fisheries and maritime sector over the last five years will be undone. The hard work done in seeking a compromise between economic interests and ecological needs to bring about sustainable development will be back to square one. The vision of a blue economy that had been hoped for in Indonesia’s future now seems increasingly out of reach.
According to Edhy, it is important to allow exports in order to provide incomes for fishermen who catch larvae in Indonesia’s waters. He is also certain that his policy will result in foreign exchange revenues because, according to his calculations, lobster larvae can be sold for up to Rp139,000 each. According to the Gerindra politician, it has only been possible for one percent of larvae to develop in the wild because Indonesia does not have adequate lobster cultivation technology. He also claims that the export ban only led to an increase in smuggling.
This is clearly an arbitrary view. If lobsters can be cultivated for at least six months in this country, the price can increase tenfold. Not only fishermen who catch the larvae, but people living by the sea who earn a living from lobster cultivation could also see their incomes increase. According to the Central Statistics Agency, the value of adult Panulirus lobsters exports in 2018 was US$28.5 million, four times higher than the 2015 figure. This was only for exports between 1,000 and 1,200 tons. Just imagine the value if lobster cultivation could be carried out in this country. Therefore, Edhy should accelerate the development of lobster cultivation technology.
There is more. Can the government guarantee that allowing exports will reduce the smuggling of larvae? The opposite could happen: because exports are now allowed, there could be an increase in the illegal catching of larvae. The legalization of exports as a way of preventing smuggling shows the fundamental logical flaw in Minister Edhy’s thinking.
However, the main reason to question this policy is the appearance of cronies of the minister on the list of export companies awarded a quota to catch lobster larvae. This list was approved by the government before the national commission on the study of fish resources had even released the results of its study on the availability of natural larvae stocks.
Some suspect that dozens of companies on this list did not actually fulfill the conditions required by the government. Many of them have only just entered the larvae export business. They clearly have never cultivated lobsters and or carried out restocking by releasing some of the products of the cultivation back into the wild as required by the ministerial regulation.
It is strongly suspected that the approval of these companies is related to the background of their owners. An investigation by this magazine uncovered the names of senior party members and politicians close to Edhy on the list. It would be truly regrettable if the government policy simply turned into a cash cow for party politicians. There is a strong aroma of corruption in this type of practice.
Moreover, there are a number of problematic individuals on the list of perspective exporters approved by the maritime affairs and fisheries ministry. Some have past convictions for smuggling lobster larvae. The appearance of their names strengthens the suspicion that the new regulation is a way to wipe the slate clean for these smugglers. The law enforcement authorities must take action. They must be proactive in investigating the possibility of further crimes.
If Minister Edhy insists on going retaining this regulation, President Joko Widodo should intervene and revoke it. Even if nature conservation is not high in the list for the President’s consideration, at the very least Jokowi must consider the possibility of the disappearance of trillions of rupiah of state revenues as a result of the mistaken policy of his subordinate.