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Improving the Management of Baitfisheries Associated with Pole-and-Line Tuna Fishing in Indonesia

Sustainability +1 more

The International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) and its Indonesian stakeholders are working on improving the management of Indonesian pole-and-line fisheries and the associated bait fisheries.

As part of this process, a baitfish management specialist was engaged. The specialist was charged with several tasks, including articulating current management issues and difficulties in baitfishing in Indonesia, mitigating baitfish shortages for pole-and-line tuna fishing, examining the issue of using fishery management plans, and outlining the future steps for improving the management of the country’s baitfisheries.

The substantive parts of this report are laid out as:

  • Summary information on baitfishing and its management at the three locations visited (with the details in appendices).
  • A discussion of fisheries management plans, in general and then specifically in Indonesia.
  • An examination of Indonesia baitfishery management issues and difficulties.
  • A proposed strategy for producing a baitfishery management plan: basic concepts, the management framework (objectives, components of the management scheme, the management unit, form of the management plan), and the way ahead.

The “low hanging fruit” for improving the management of baitfishing in the area appears to be improving baitfish handling.

  • The WWF program has made a good start on the monitoring of baitfish but could benefit from technical oversight and knowledge of the results of previous baitfish research.
  • The District government has little heritage of fisheries management and little information on resource condition.
  • Management improvements promoted by IPNLF would need to be sensitive to the limited capabilities/interest at the district government level and be compatible with the on-going NGO work.

Main Observations at Sorong

The baitfish handling appears to be somewhat gentler at Sorong than at Larantuka – but still brutal compared to that of the South Pacific.

  • Individuals associated with bagan fishing have a low opinion of the benefits of MPAs for baitfish resource sustainability.
  • The management of marine activities in the Raja Ampat area appears largely based on MPAs, whose establishment is encouraged by NGOs.
  • The “black anchovy” is presumably Encrasicholina punctifer (75% of the baitfish catch in Raja Ampat). If so, the fish is oceanic in nature is not likely to be subjected to resource overexploitation from bagan fishing in the area.

Main Observations at Bitung

The Bitung-based pole-and-line fleet has not expanded remarkably in the last 20 years. The reported expansion of baitfishing by bagans could be due to (a) the expansion of demand for baitfish for food, (b) the reported contraction of beach seining, or (c) lower CPUE of bagan fishing.

  • With the December to March period being the bad season for baitfishing and September to December being the good season for pole-and-line fishing, it is easy to see why seasonal bait shortages occur.
  • The district government has little heritage of fisheries management and little information on resource condition.
  • In common with Larantuka and Sorong, the baitfish handling techniques are quite rough and the bait to tuna ratio is quite poor. Much could be done to improve this situation.


A common feature for each of the locations visited in the survey is the low level of fisheries management skills/experience by the district government agencies dealing with fisheries. In this situation, the presence of marine-oriented NGOs is a major advantage when contemplating improvements to fisheries management. Both Larantuka and Sorong (Raja Ampat) have substantial programmes sponsored by major international NGOs, but around Bitung there is apparently no marine NGO presence.

WWF at Larantuka

From discussions with the enumerators and supervising WWF staff, it appears that their work in Larantuka is well-organised and timely. The enumerators have considerable pride in their work. Although the baitfishing and sampling operations were not observed during the present survey (poor weather resulted in no baiting), several suggestions are made to improve the baitfish monitoring.

TNC at Raja Ampat

The positive results of the work NGO groups active in the marine areas of Raja Ampat is indisputable. It appears, however, that the situation could be improved if those NGOs are made aware of higher-level conservation benefits related to bagan fishing: the national value of promoting environmentally-friendly pole-and-line tuna fishing in the world’s largest tuna fishing nation.

A Challenging Aspect of Improving Management

A major problem of baitfishery management in Indonesia is the practicality of improving the management of fisheries supplying bait that are surrounded by fisheries that are poorly managed. The recommendations given in this report are based largely on the general strategy of working initially in one or two locations where there is the greatest chance of success and then expanding to other locations.

Baitfish Shortages

In examining the issue of baitfish shortages, a number of observations can be made:

  • Many reports on baitfisheries in Indonesia comment on baitfish shortages.
  • The most comprehensive studies focussing on baitfish shortages point to natural variation in abundance and/or increased use of bait as food – rather than simply over-exploitation by baitfishing.
  • The solutions offered for mitigating baitfish shortages for the pole-and-line fleet include using alternative baitfishing techniques (e.g. boke ami gear), restrictions on the non-bait use of baitfish, culturing baitfish, and reduction of wastage in bait handling/storage/utilization. Each of these is considered in this report.

Tuna-Baitfish Ratios

The tuna-baitfish ratios at the height of the Pacific Islands pole-and-line fisheries were around 32:1. The ratios at the three locations visited were reported to be much less.

Bait Wastage

Bait wastage can be thought of as having three components:

  • Poor baitfish handling: for many of the bait species commonly used in Indonesia (e.g. the anchovies Encrasicholina devisi, E. heteroloba), any contact that the fish have with a hard surface (e.g. side of bucket, net, other fish) during the transfer operation will tend to result in scale loss, contributing to mortality.
  • The manner in which baitfish are stored aboard a pole-and-line vessel also has a large impact on mortality. This includes the kind of circulation in the bait tanks, lighting of the tanks, and density of baitfish in the tanks.
  • The third form of bait wastage is more subtle: using more bait than necessary to chum a tuna school. This involves the fishing skill of the pole-and-line vessel captain and the crew doing the chumming. Much can be done to decrease this wastage, especially for bait handling. Improvements would tend to mitigate baitfish shortages.

Milkfish culture

Several of the unknowns of baitfish culture in Indonesia can be clarified by the experience from the central and western Pacific. In terms of the type of fish to be selected for culture, milkfish is very likely to be the most appropriate species. When treated and used properly, milkfish has very good survival in bait tanks and a very favorable tuna to bait ratio.

  • Baitfish culture has not proven to be viable in the central and western Pacific, but some of the conditions are more favorable in Indonesia: a tradition of pole-and-line fishers purchasing baitfish and heritage of successful aquaculture for other species/purposes.
  • Several Indonesian companies now have experience in the culture of milkfish for pole-andline bait. They are likely to have considerable insight into the feasibility of baitfish culture, and in a position to decide whether to proceed (and shoulder the costs) of milkfish culture. It would seem that if the economics of baitfish culture are dubious, the companies would be enthusiastic about the government taking on milkfish culture as a service to the industry

Conclusions on Mitigating Baitfish Shortages

The report discusses several ways that baitfish shortages can be mitigated. Each of these may have a positive impact, but the pole-and-line fishing companies should not discount the value of the three ways to decrease baitfish wastage.

Controls on Fishers

It is essential that a fisheries management plan have controls available for use when certain limits are exceeded – hence the importance of identifying appropriate controls for Indonesia’s baitfishery at the beginning of the planning process.

  • It appears that baitfish management in Indonesia is in danger of being reliant on nonunctional controls. To overcome this fundamental problem, it is strongly recommended that only those controls that have had some degree of success in Indonesia be proposed for the new baitfish management scheme.
  • A marine protected area, although far from an ideal control, appears to be one of the few controls that may work in baitfishery management.

Bait vs. Food

The partitioning of the bagan catch between bait and food is a large issue that is likely to grow in significance. In the pole-and-line industry’s quest for sufficient baitfish, any initiatives that promote the concept that baitfish should receive preference over food should be carefully considered, as there is the possibility that it may tarnish some of the positive social credentials of pole-and-line fishing.

Management Authority: Districts vs. Central Government

Currently, the situation is not as simple as the districts having autonomy in fisheries affairs within four miles (i.e. the bagan fisheries being managed by the districts). During the present survey, discussions with fisheries officials at the district, province, and national level lead to the conclusion that the current situation for fisheries management inside four miles is a complex sharing of authority between levels of government that has evolved over the last decade, and involves many considerations including those relating to financing and institutional capacity. The reality is that the central government agencies have the skills/experience/money for management fisheries activities - and because of that, much management within four miles is carried out by the central government simply because they are able to do it.

Historical Information

From the comments on required baitfish research made during the present survey by many individuals and those made in various documents, there appears to be a significant amount of “reinventing the wheel”. That is, an expressed desire to carry out research on topics that have already been well-studied. In the heyday of pole-and-line fishing in the world, much research was done on topics such as interactions with food fisheries, basic biological characteristics of particular species, baitfish mortality, and culturing bait. This fact does not eliminate the need for additional research, but it would be quite inefficient to carry out new research in ignorance of past results. The need here appears to be a compilation of previous baitfish research findings, including overall lessons learned.

MSC and Baitfisheries

There is a large range of views on the MSC requirement for baitfisheries, and therefore some clarification of the situation is required. Accordingly, the issue was discussed at the IPNLF advisory meeting in February 2014. The report of that meeting gives high priority to IPNLF trustees obtaining definitive clarification from MSC (staff, technical advisors and board) of the requirements for a baitfishery associated with a fishery undergoing certification.

A Strategy For producing a Management Plan

It is proposed that the production of a baitfishery management plan be based on several general concepts:

  • The scheme will be based initially on two sites: Larantuka and the Raja Ampat area of Sorong.
  • The general strategy would be to get management going at two locations where it is relatively easy to work and then, after it is up/running, expand the management to other areas.
  • A management plan for a baitfishery is not absolutely necessary, but in a developing country like Indonesia, a plan would be very helpful in facilitating management improvements.
  • Management improvements promoted by IPNLF would need to be sensitive to the limited capabilities/interest at the district government level and compatible with the on-going NGO work.
  • Considering the huge task of improving baitfishery management in Indonesia, work in cooperation with established NGOs is highly desirable, if not essential.
  • Only those controls on fishers that have had some degree of success in Indonesia should be relied upon in the baitfish management scheme.
  • Local baitfishery management plans prepared in the near future can be incorporated into FMA-type plans that may be prepared in the longer term.
  • Wherever possible and appropriate, use should be made of previous baitfish research.
  • Simplicity is the key: the baitfishery management plan should be a short document that people and agencies will become familiar with and will keep and use.

The Main Components of the Management Scheme

It is proposed that the management scheme be minimalist and consist of just three components.

  • Obtaining information on status of the baitfish resources: first by using the available information, then by extrapolating from studies on similar areas and same species, then (if justified) new research.
  • Establishment of a monitoring system (or latching on to an existing system) that is oriented to learning of changes important to the management objectives (i.e. changes in baitfish CPUE, changes in baitfish mortality).
  • Establish a system of controls (or latching on to an existing system) that would kick in when the monitoring detects problem. The MPA system is suggested, but there may be others that are effective in Indonesia.

The Way Ahead

From the perspective of the baitfishery management specialist, a number of steps are required to progress from the present situation to having a functional baitfishery management plan. 17 steps are proposed. IPNLF staff and other stakeholders will probably want to modify the list. The required steps are likely to change depending on the discussions with the NGOs, companies, and government officials at various levels. Some thoughts on task allocation are given.

Baitfish Management Workshops

Baitfishery management workshops should be held in Larantuka and Raja Ampat. It is proposed that the main objectives of the workshops should be to:

  • Obtain a consensus by the major stakeholders of what the objectives of the management of the baitfisheries should be – and a prioritization of those objectives.
  • Settle on the most appropriate control mechanisms: MPAs or otherwise.
  • Promote stakeholder buy-in of the management process through their input at the workshops.
  • Gauge the interest of the various participants of participating in the process, and partition responsibilities amongst those interested.

Major Recommendation

The major recommendation arising from this survey is that IPNLF study closely the section “A Strategy for Producing a Management Plan” and endorse or modify the ideas put forward, including the general concepts, the management framework (objectives, components of the management scheme, the management unit, form of the management plan), and the future steps to be taken.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

October 2014