The Indonesian fishing industry provides a significant portion of fish to the world’s fish market. Recently, however, this industry in Indonesia has been under scrutiny for its poor practices, including slave labor, human trafficking, physical abuse and illegal antibiotics.
Slave Labor in the Indonesian Fishing Industry
Due to the high demand for fish, fishing boats are staying at sea longer, traveling farther and the crews are working more hours each day. To fill these undesirable jobs and cut costs, many companies turned to forced labor. In 2015, a small island in Indonesia, Benjina, was discovered to be housing over 300 slaves for the fishing industry, many of them being Burmese migrant workers.
Since then, thousands of people have been rescued from the island, fishing boats, processing plants and popular fishing port. Afterward, these people told their individual stories of abuse and enslavement. Many were kidnapped or came under false pretenses and kept on Benjina for years, sometimes in cages, with no contact to the outside world. Those placed to work on a boat remained at sea for months at a time, with little access to food and clean water and suffered physical abuse from their supervisors. Others were locked in processing plants for years, forced to work 16-hour shifts uncompensated.
Concerns with Farmed Fish
Farmed fish can often be a good alternative to wild-caught ones because it reduces the amount of fishing necessary to meet market demands and allows the fish populations to recover from overfishing, but there are still many concerns associated with it. Farmed fish are fed fish meal made from wild-caught fish. This means that purchasing a farm-raised fish may still mean supporting slave labor earlier in the production line.
Antibiotic use is also a serious concern in many regions in the Indonesian fishing industry. In the country, shrimp farming is a particularly popular type of aquaculture. A significant portion of U.S. shrimp imports comes from Indonesian farms. Many antibiotics are used by Indonesian shrimp farmers that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Issues with traceability and low levels of chemical testing during customs allow for many of these contaminated shrimp to enter the country and stock supermarket shelves.
Technology Changing Farming Practices
An Indonesian tech company, eFishery, is working towards improving the Indonesian fishing industry. The company aims to introduce new technologies that will improve farming conditions, take pressure off fishing and reduce the need for harmful antibiotics in aquaculture. They are the sole producers of a “smart fish feeder”, an app that times scheduled feeds so that farmers can monitor their farms on a mobile device. Overfeeding is common practice in aquaculture around the world, and this device can save farmers 21 percent in food costs.
They also work to promote direct farm to consumer sales through an online marketplace. By removing wholesalers from the distribution chain, farmers receive more money for their product and are able to increase wages for workers. Additionally, this improves transparency so the consumer knows exactly where their fish came from, how it was produced, and when it was harvested, eliminating health concerns such as antibiotic use and freshness.
Companies like eFishery are using technologies to improve the efficiency and sustainability of aquaculture. Consumers benefit from fair market prices and more information about the fish, while farmers receive a higher percentage of the profit for their product and cut extraneous costs.
At the same time, there is less need for harmful overfishing practices that have decimated wild fish populations and formed a culture of slave labor and abuse. This sort of technology has the potential to transform the Indonesian fishing industry and improve the lives of those who work in it.
– Georgia Orenstein