Fisherfolks are Pushing the Solution, Not the Illusion of Blue Carbon

09 December 2015

In addition to having a strategic role as a provider of jobs, food needs, and economic sustainability, small-scale fisheries also become an important driver in conserving fish and natural resources through a variety of local knowledge.

Sergang Laut Fishermen / Photo credit Haryadi Be / Flickr

Delivered in an international forum "Blue Carbon: Ocean Grabbing in Disguise" organized by the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) on 8 November 2015 held in Paris, France.

Honorable Chairman and members of World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP), Honorable ladies and gentlemen,

Assalaamua'laikum Wr. Wb., Greetings to all of us.

I am here to represent the Indonesian Traditional Fisherfolks Union (Kesatuan Nelayan Tradisional Indonesia/ KNTI)-a mass organization of fishers and small-scale fish farmers that include men and women spread across in 26 regions of Indonesia. KNTI also is the youngest member of the World Forum of Fisher People. Before further discussion on Blue Carbon, please allow me to convey the strategic position of small-scale fishers and fisheries in Indonesia.

In Indonesia, small-scale fishers are categorized as fishers who use fishing vessels with a size below 5 gross tons. Thus, in 2014, almost 90 percent of the total 634 thousand Indonesian fishing vessels falls in the small fishing category. Small-scale fisheries are estimated to have at least 8 million workers in the production, processing, and marketing activities. They supply at least 60% of the total national fishery production, together with aquaculture production-that is used to support the fulfillment of the needs for fish consumption of the people of Indonesia that has now reached more than 35kg per capita per year. Then, they keep the supply of the raw material for needs of the domestic industry. In fact, some of the production is also exported to countries such as: USA, EU, Japan, Hong Kong, China and other neighboring countries.

In addition to having a strategic role as a provider of jobs, food needs, and economic sustainability, small-scale fisheries also become an important driver in conserving fish and natural resources through a variety of local knowledge. The conservation scheme of the local communities has proved friendly in social, ecological, and economic spheres, such as: Awig awig in West Nusa Tenggara, Sasi in Maluku, Bapongka in Central Sulawesi, Manee in South Sulawesi, and Panglima Laot in Aceh.

Honorable ladies and gentlemen,

All of the potential and the positive contribution of small-scale fisheries are threatened by a series of problems. Even lately under the guise of mitigation and adaptation programs of climate change. For example, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, the use of biofuels is being promoted, including from palm oil. In its development, a number of ecosystems in coastal areas and small islands of Indonesia converted to meet the needs of the global market of biofuel. In Langkat, North Sumatra, at least 16 thousand hectares of mangrove forest have been converted to oil palm plantations-and have caused a decline in fish catches and flooding in the village of the fishers. Here, KNTI together with a number of organizations and local government is conducting rehabilitation to restore the ecological functions of mangrove ecosystem as fish spawning and nursery, as well as preventing coastal erosion and sedimentation.

Another example, the issue of sea level rise is often associated as the bad impact of climate change is used as justification to expand the development of water front cities with coastal reclamation. In Jakarta Bay, reclamation activities require at least 3.3 billion cubic meters of sand material taken from other regions, and then use them to build 17 new islands. Besides being supported by a number of property companies, this project is also supported by number of contractors and consultants from various countries, like the Netherlands and Korea which plan to build a Giant Sea Wall. Potentially, about 16 thousand fishers could be robbed from their lives and livelihoods, the coastal ecosystems destroyed and even the main issue related to the termination of pollution in the Bay of Jakarta is barely a concern. So today, 5 fishers, members of KNTI, together with a number of civil society organizations brought the case to court to cancel the reclamation permit. Similar coastal reclamation projects has also been happening in many other places of Indonesia, such as in the Gulf of Benoa, Bali, and the coast of Makassar, South Sulawesi.

Such counterproductive conditions also occurs in the world strategy to combat IUUF (Illegal, Unregulated, and Underreported Fishing) and the expansion of marine conservation projects. On one side, the global instruments to stop IUUF become more and more. But, the fish trade of IUUF activities are still ongoing. As well as mobilization of financing from the World Bank, ADB, GEF, USAID etc. for marine conservation activities continue to roll. However, a global sanction against corporations that damage the environment and pollute the ocean is not imposed. Instead, multinational companies such as: Newmont and Freeport are more bold and are sueing a sovereign state such as Indonesia to international arbitration.

Honorable ladies and gentlemen,

At the end of 2009, UNEP together with a syndicate of institutions authorized under the United Nations issued two documents, each entitled: "Blue Carbon: The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon" and "A Blue Carbon Fund: The ocean equivalent of REDD for carbon sequestration in coastal states ".

Since the beginning, we agree and have the same concerns with UNEP et al. who said that global marine and coastal ecosystem was damaged severely, including: as much as one third of the world's seagrass has been lost (Waycott et al., 2009), 25% area of wetland has been lost (Bridgham et al,. 2006), 35% of mangrove area has been lost (Valiela et al., 2001). In fact, the report also states that extinction rates of organisms in the ocean ecosystem is higher than other ecosystems in the world, which is 4 times compared to that of rain forest ecosystems.

Because of that serious crisis, we wonder why UNEP et al., is encouraging the scheme of Blue Carbon Fund (BCF), such as REDD for the forest, instead of strengthening global efforts to cut carbon emissions and punish corporations that engage in activities that pollute the ocean, damage the coastal and marine ecosystems, and practice illegal fishing activities?

UNEP describes there are two Blue Carbon commodities, respectively: the first commodity is marine water. In this case marine water is assumed as a strategic medium that is able to absorb carbon (carbon sink) from the atmosphere. Then, the second commodity is called the main coastal ecosystems, such as: sea grass and mangrove forests. Commodification of the marine water commodity and coastal ecosystems to the offset scheme can deflect efforts to address the root problem of ecological crisis of marine and coastal ecosystem in the world. This initiative encouraged by UNEP to the Government of Indonesia since the meeting of the World Ocean Conference in Manado, 2009, and the 11th Special Session of the Governing Council/ Global Ministerial Environment Forum of UNEP in Bali 2010.

Honorable ladies and gentlemen,

Since the sixteenth century, fisherfolks in Lamalera, East Nusa Tenggara believe that the sea is like a mother. In the local language they call: "Ina soro budi, budi Noro apadike. Pai pana ponu, te hama hama. "The sea is the mother who provide, protect and love. Therefore, we should maintain its sustainability."

The sea is a mother, and Blue Carbon asks us to sell our mother. We know since beginning that “mother” is sick because of the greed of the industrialized countries and corporations. Today, the same criminals come into our homes and without any guilt they say: "you need money to save the mother, there is no other way other than ‘selling your mother services'." Well, because anything ‘green' has become a market strategy in the past and failed, it is now packaged as a "blue carbon".

We know our mother would never be respected by them, and the fruits they collect from her will be business as usual and a further Accumulation of Capital. We need a solution together, beyond the illusion of Blue Carbon Fund. We have seen that small scale fishers is the real solution to address climate change problem.

First, the ocean crisis is originated by the exploitative economic policies on the land. Therefore a global agreement to ensure multinational corporations adhere to human rights protection and environmental sustainability must continue to be strengthened.

Second, the global strategy to provide protection to the fishermen and fisherwomen should be immediately implemented. The international instrument of FAO to secure small scale fisheries (VGSSF, 2014) must be immediately followed by the national policies in each state to provide assurances as to the fulfillment of the right to coastal land for fisher family, decent work, access to fair markets, also mobilizing State resources to support mitigation and adaptation to climate change to the villages of fishers.

It is good for the world leaders to learn more from the small-scale fishers preserving the environment and preservation of fish resources. In Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, fishers believe that the ocean is a gift of God. So there is an obligation for everyone to maintain and preserve fishery resources. When there is a full moon, traditional fishers will not go fishing. We believe it is the right time for the fish to reproduce; and then increase in abundance.