Happy people, many fish: engaging Indonesia’s small-scale tuna fishermen for environmental, social, and economic sustainability

Working hand-in-hand with industry partners, government, communities, and academia, we are insuring a future for Indonesian tuna fisheries through data collection, development of fisheries management, and capacity building. Our goal is sustainable small-scale tuna fisheries (environmentally, socially, and economically), with the objective of achieving eco-certification by 2020.

What seafood sustainability challenge or need is this collaboration addressing?

Indonesia is one of the largest seafood-producing countries in the world; it is the source of 16% of the world’s tuna catch. Yet very limited data exists on the status of these fisheries, limiting management capacity and leading to unsustainable fishing practices. Indonesian marine resources are threatened by overfishing; illegal, unreported and unregistered (IUU) fishing; unregulated use of fish aggregating devices (FADs); and limited spatial management of vast and complex coastal ecosystems.

The road to successful fisheries management is long and involves many challenges, but MDPI, an Indonesian nonprofit, has been tackling these challenges for the past five years. Working directly with the fishing industry and seafood supply chains, MDPI has built a program that is achieving measurable steps towards sustainable small-scale tuna fisheries in Indonesia.

MDPI’s long term goal and mantra has always been “Happy people, many fish.” The organization works in communities across Indonesia, engaging directly with small-scale fishermen (who comprise almost 70% of the roughly 3 million Indonesian fishermen). Left unregulated, Indonesian tuna fisheries have the potential to deplete stocks and wreak havoc on some of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet. Yet with strong fishery management, Indonesian small-scale fisheries can contribute to food security and economic prosperity.

By partnering with seafood supply chains and associated industries, who have a commitment to engage in sustainability work, MDPI’s work contributes to sustainable fisheries and the development of robust fisheries management. We address the persistent sustainability issues through improved data collection, the development of effective fisheries management, private sector engagement, and capacity development for government institutions and industry professionals.

Please describe your vision for how your team will approach the problem, how collaboration is essential to success, and what ideal outcome or deliverable will result.

Since the beginning, MDPI has worked with stakeholders from across the fishing industry to achieve measurable success and growth. We support industry to contribute scientifically relevant data for inclusion in management.

MDPI is the leader of a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) for Eastern Indonesian yellowfin tuna caught in handline fishing gear (https://fisheryprogress.org/fip-profile/eastern-indonesia-yellowfin-tuna-handline). The FIP is implemented in close collaboration with international buyers and with partners WWF Indonesia, AP2HI, and the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF), as well as with partners at the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Indonesia (MMAF) and provincial governments.

The tuna handline FIP supported by MDPI involves industry partners who have actively engaged with MDPI over several years and implement various programs and improvements in their supply chains, either independently or in collaboration with MDPI field teams. Major activities with which industry are involved include: a robust port sampling program, participation in an industry association and in provincially based co-management initiatives. Additionally, many industry partners are also engaging in improvements related to supply chain transparency and traceability to combat IUU issues. Increasing collaboration and involvement of the government, especially the processing, marketing and competitiveness directorate is ensuring continued progress of the FIP from both an industry and a regulator perspective.

The FIP action plan is as follows:

  1. Bring together leading Indonesian industry to work collaboratively towards sustainability and ensure market access
  2. Create real change in the water by implementing various sustainability programs throughout the tuna supply chains
  3. Through collaboration, participation and learning to create well informed, well-educated and highly active stakeholders to engage in
  4. Indonesia tuna supply chain. These stakeholders include industries, fishermen, government, NGOs and academia.
  5. To achieve MSC certification for small-scale tuna fisheries

How can this sustainability challenge benefit from the experience and expertise of the seafood community?

This FIP has been operating for six years; the challenges and barriers to achieving sustainable fisheries in Indonesia are immense. That’s not to say that it is an impossible goal; incredible progress has already been made. This is certainly an opportunity to bring in more insight, knowledge from experts from the global seafood community. We can benefit from the perspectives, advice, and expertise of those that have achieved MSC certification in similar circumstances, or worked towards fisheries sustainability in data-poor situations. These fresh perspectives will help develop momentum and drive us towards our goals.

Final pitch: What makes this project unique, and uniquely valuable to sustainable seafood?

Indonesia’s tuna catch is the largest in the world, contributing roughly 16% of the world’s tuna supply. From a seafood perspective, tuna is extremely valuable commercially; it is exported to the US, Europe, and Japan. It is unique in that both Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean Tuna stocks are fished in Indonesian waters. Improving the sustainability of these fisheries has the potential for a huge impact in global tuna supply.

Our project is also unique because of its scope and geographical context. Few areas of the ocean rival the complexity of the archipelagic waters of Indonesia, which are at the heart of marine biodiversity. We have already formed trusted relationships in remote communities across eastern Indonesia, with active field sites in over twenty communities. We are collecting data every single day – right now even – to work towards sustainable tuna fisheries in Indonesia. Furthermore, we’ve overseen real change through our various programs, taking innovative approaches in order to successfully implement traceable supply chains and achieve Fair Trade certification.


Allison Stocks, Yayasan Masyarakat dan Perikanan Indonesia (MDPI) Business sector or primary seafood-related activity: NGO – focused on achieving responsible and sustainable fisheries activities Key areas of expertise: Fisheries science, data communication, marine conservation, community development

Role on the team: Team Lead, FIP coordinator

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