3 ways to help Indonesia grow more seafood from aquaculture, with less local impact

Aquaculture production in Indonesia is more than double that of capture fisheries. The sector has rebounded, with production increasing from 2.4 million tons in 2010 to 6.4 million tons in 2019.

In 2024, Indonesia aims to achieve an annual production volume growth of 10.4% for aquaculture. Globally, as capture fisheries production slows, seafood production has shifted to aquaculture. Aquaculture produces 49% of the world’s seafood and is currently the fastest growing food production sector. It is therefore not surprising that the aquaculture sector is one of the development priorities in Indonesia.

However, the growth in aquaculture development comes with environmental impacts. These include the clearing of mangroves for aquaculture, and the discharge of waste from aquaculture activities.

Our recent report, “Trends in Indonesia’s Marine Resources Management and Fisheries: A Review,” published by World Resources Institute Indonesia, highlights the country’s reliance on aquaculture to achieve food security, as well as the challenges to achieving sustainable management of aquaculture.

Our report found that Indonesia produces nearly half of its seafood from farms, including freshwater, brackish water, and mariculture, with more than 70% of freshwater aquaculture consumed domestically.

In that report, we and our co-authors identified three steps to ensure sustainable development of aquaculture, with a focus on farming shrimp and seaweed.

Shrimp is the most important aquaculture commodity in Indonesia and the largest source of fisheries in the country, while the seaweed industry has the potential to grow and can provide a source of income for middle-to-low-income communities.

1. Coherent and collaborative planning

Indonesia has the potential to revitalize and restore currently degraded aquaculture areas, especially in shrimp aquaculture. Shrimp farming is the main cause of mangrove degradation in Indonesia.

Shrimp farming in Aceh, Indonesia. Fish farms help post-tsunami villages in Aceh.
Mike Losmore/DockerybitCC BY

The deterioration is worst along the northern coast of Java, the eastern coast of Kalimantan, and southeast Sulawesi.

Indonesia’s ambitious target of doubling shrimp aquaculture production to 2 million tonnes by 2024 poses a threat to mangroves across the country.

Aware of the threat, the government issued Coordinating Economic Ministerial Regulation No. 4 of 2017, a regulation targeting the rehabilitation of 1.8 million hectares of mangroves.

To achieve production and rehabilitation targets, the government will need careful planning, including intensification – using available resources to increase production from existing aquaculture areas – rather than expansion.

The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries should collaborate with provincial governments to ensure that planning and review are tailored to each province’s development priorities.

Twenty-seven provinces in Indonesia have enacted Coastal and Small Island Spatial Plans (RZWP3K). It is important for planning areas to have clear boundaries between areas that are reviewed annually, especially when the coastline changes due to sea level rise and other factors.

Data on coastal and marine areas, such as marine resources, habitats and users, must be collected and managed effectively. Data should be collected in formats that allow for easy transfer between agencies when necessary.

Having good data management can help make better decisions when planning aquaculture. This means considering important habitats such as mangroves and seagrass, as well as other priorities that may compete with aquaculture for space, such as tourism and shipping.

2. Setting appropriate policies for different types of aquaculture

Different types of aquaculture require different management systems. For example, research shows that seaweed farming in eastern Indonesia is causing severe damage to important seagrass ecosystems – which play a vital role in combating climate change.

In addition, the government needs to develop a national strategy to address the spread of diseases that can reduce the productivity of seaweed farming. In the Kunawe region of Southeast Sulawesi, seaweed production is being affected by an outbreak of ‘glacial ice’ bleaching disease.

An “ice ice” disease appears to infect cultivated algae.
Ronald Simbagon/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

To ensure the responsible and sustainable growth of seaweed across Indonesia, the authorities need to put in place more appropriate policies. This should include identifying suitable sites for cultivation and processing within the country to enhance the value chain.

If Indonesia encourages companies to process seaweed products within the country, it can improve the value of exports and bring more benefits to the communities involved in the process.

3. Build accessible capacities

Aquaculture in Indonesia has the potential to increase employment, retain jobs in rural areas, and create decent employment opportunities.

However, labor productivity is relatively low, with an average output of less than 1 ton per fish farmer in 2016. This is much lower than rates in other countries such as China and Norway, where it was much higher at 10 tons and 165 tons respectively. . .

Women in aquaculture
Indonesian women tie seaweed on a nylon rope.

To address this problem, the government could establish a training program for aquaculture farmers that focuses on sound environmental management of intensive aquaculture pond systems.

The training program can help fish farmers access and adopt innovative practices. This includes access to subsidized insurance that reduces risks and stimulates sustainable environmental management, as well as new technologies to improve their returns.

Capacity building programs should also include women, as they play an important role in the processing phase of the aquaculture industry. Providing training during the post-harvest phase can also help reduce wastage and loss while increasing net yield.

It is expected that aquaculture production in Indonesia will increase in the future. To ensure sustainable growth, it is important to enforce consistent coastal and marine spatial planning, strengthen seaweed industry policy, and strengthen government capacity building programmes.

These actions will ensure that the aquaculture industry can provide food security and boost the ocean economy, without harming the environment or local communities.