Tuna and bycatch in Indonesia

Indonesia is the biggest tuna landing nation in the world, contributing 17 percent or 1.12 million metric tonnes (MT) to the total global tuna production in 2016 (FAO, 2018). The Indonesian tuna fishery consists of a combination of an industrial fleet, of purse seine and longline vessels, and a fleet of smaller fishing vessels ranging from small purse seine vessels to single person handline boats. The fishing grounds are widespread, extending from the Indian Ocean EEZ waters in the south to the Pacific Ocean EEZ waters in the north, passing through the extensive archipelagic waters of the Banda, Maluku, Ceram and other seas. This profile provides you with key insights into tuna fisheries, tuna supply chains and the trade in frozen and fresh tuna products. You will find specific insights in the Indonesian tuna canning industry here.

In an effort to secure the future of Indonesia’s fishery, the Minister of Martime

and Fishery Affairs, Susi Pudjiastuti, started to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Indonesian territorial waters since 2014. Pudjiastuti has issued two decrees that have had and a great impact on the tuna industry. The first was a moratorium on issuing new fishing licenses and renewals being granted to ex-foreign vessels. Marine fishing was placed on the negative investment list that made foreign ownership of fishing vessels illegal. A large part of the previously licensed fishing fleet of vessels owned by China, Thailand, the Philippines were not allowed to fish anymore. Consequently many are still docked. The Indonesian Navy arrests crews of foreign vessels that are caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. Afterwards, in some cases minister Susi Pudjiastuti ordered the sinking or burning of the ships (380 boats in total up to the beginning of 2018, nearly half were Vietnamese vessels. In 2018 the Ministry has stopped with destroying more ships. The second decree is a ban on transshipment at sea, because these are sometimes linked to illegal exports, at least in the shrimp trawling industry. The transshipment ban is still in place for foreign vessels but has been lifted for local ships. Moreover she banned unsustainable fishing methods such as trawling and bomb fisheries. To restructure the industry her Ministry has planned investments in a fleet of more than 200 modern vessels. These vessels will use more sustainable fishing methods, build more modern fish landing centres closer to the catch areas and encourage foreign investment in cold storage and seafood processing to facilitate the expected higher local fish landings.

Minister Susi Pudjiastuti received critique on her policies and its implementation. The criticism came from within and outside the government and industry players because of the (initial) negative impact on the industry as a whole. Examples are increasing costs, shortage of raw material and subsequent job losses. However, many local fishing communities and Indonesian boat owners support her policies and report that since her crack down on illegal fishing, tuna catches are improving. She highlighted that the overall biomass in Indonesian waters has already increased 240 percent and that the total catches have increased from 4.5 million MT to 6.6 MT (Seafood Source, 2017). In addition, environmental NGOs praise her efforts to safeguard ocean health and ensure sustainable fishery management.

Tuna and bycatch
  • Factory

Sourcing news

Production and export statistics

Species wise production

Source: FAO (2018)

The multi-gear and multispecies nature of the Indonesian fisheries, as well the thousands of landing sites where catches can be offloaded, make monitoring of capture data extremely difficult. Production figures for Indonesia tend to be incomplete and unreliable, so the numbers portrayed here are likely uncertain and should be considered as rough estimates or approximations.


The dominant tuna species landed in Indonesia include skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), kawakawa/mackerel tuna (Euthynnus affinis), yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), and frigate and bullet tunas (Auxis thazard, A. rochei). Longtail tuna (Thunnus tonggol) is not listed among FAO catch data, but is also an important commercial tuna species that is easily misidentified. Kingfish/narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (Scomeromorus commersoni) is the most valuable bycatch species and often has its own targetted fisheries.

The ‘other’ category in the figure above includes economically important tuna and bycatch species such as bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus, 51,449 t) and albacore (Thunnus alalunga, 7,301 t), marlin species (Makaira spp., Istiophorus spp., 15,926 t), swordfish (Xiphias gladius, 12,412 t) and other mackerel species (23,042 t) for 2016.

Data on bycatch species such as mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus), wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) and escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) are limited. The latest official data report on mahi mahi was in 2011 and portrayed a total production of 8,552 t. For escolar no official data exists on catch and production data. However, 2013 and 2014 catch data from Fishery Improvement Projects in the Indian Ocean showed that the volume of escolar (oilfish) was the third highest after albacore and yellowfin tuna, hinting at its high importance in the nations’ capture production. Swordfish and mahi mahi were in fourth and fifth place respectively.

Statistics showed an upward trend in total catches, but has declined in 2015 and remained at the same level in 2016. Catches of especially skipjack tuna showed a reduction, which could be a result of the crack down on illegal fisheries in Indonesian waters. In the long run, Indonesian capture production for tuna and bycatch is expected to increase due to recovering stocks and higher availability of marine resources for Indonesian fishermen. The increase in exports for 2017 seems to support this theory.

Tuna catches per species per gear (2014)

Source: DGCF and MoMAF (2016)

The Indonesian tuna fisheries are predominantly artisanal in scale, and multi-gear and multispecies by nature. Around 80 percent of tuna catches are from the Western Central Pacific ocean side (Pacific EEZ waters and archipelagic waters) , with the remaining 20% caught in the Eastern Indian Ocean. Very little

fishing occurs outside domestic waters due to the generally small size and limited range of Indonesian fishing vessels.

Common capture methods are purse seine, pole-and-line, longline, troll, gillnet and handline. The figures portrayed here should be viewed as provisional as much of this data was obtained from interview surveys at provincial level, varying widely in the degree of diligence and rigour in compilation amongst the provinces.
Purse seine, pole-and-line and handline catch primarily skipjack tuna and yellowfin tuna and operate mostly in the Western Central Pacific Ocean. Longlining targeting bigeye, albacore and yellowfin tuna is mostly found in the Eastern Indian Ocean. Bycatch species are predominantly caught by long liners and purse seiners.

The Indonesian pole and line fishery is one of the largest in the developing world, but due to adverse economic factors and technological advances some fishermen have recently been switching to handline fishing and purse seine whose productivity has increased over the years. Handline catches has quadrupled over the period of 2004-2014. Longline fishing has increased slightly since 2004 and has remained relatively stable over the last few years.

The Indonesian purse seine and longline fishery for albacore, yellowfin and bigeye tuna, pole and line fishery for skipjack tuna and yellowfin tuna and handline fishery for yellowfin tuna are currently engaged in Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs). The goal of these fisheries is to reach MSC certification. The fisheries engaged in this project are rewarded with market access, on the condition that they improve the sustainability of their practices.

‘Other species’ represent longtail, albacore and bluefin tuna; ‘other gears’ include trolling and drift gill nets. Due to their minor component and relative small importance to overall tuna landings and lacking fishery statistics, these gear types are not further considered.

Export markets

Trade Map (2018), International Trade Centre, intracen.org

There is a large gap between the amount of fish that is landed and the amount of fish being exported. A portion of these catches can be attributed to be further processed in the canning industry and are reported under the canned fish exports. Another part can be ascribed to domestic consumption, with

a population over 250 mln and (small) tuna being a preferred table species. Other feasible explanations include conversion of export volumes to whole fish equivalent, illegal and unregulated trade, inflated catch numbers, as well as post-harvest loses due to lack of cold storage facilities and solid infrastructure.

The export of tuna and bycatch products from Indonesia have been fluctuating the last years, with a peak of 133,906 tonnes in 2013 which dropped to 85,032 tonnes in 2016. 2017 shows a recovery. The decrease is related to the reduced exports to Thailand, which picked up again in 2017. Thailand is the biggest exporter of canned tuna globally, but lacks tuna resources. It is therefore also the largest importer of lower quality frozen skipjack to serve as input for the domestic processing industry. Exports to markets like the Philippines, Vietnam and China also picked up in 2017, with China and Vietnam both importing around 4,600 MT and the Philippines 9,000 MT.

The US and Japan exceed Thailand in terms of import value. Japan and the United States mostly import larger fish whole or processed from handline and longline fisheries which command much higher prices, driving up import values. Japan imports fresh, high quality sashimi grade tuna, while the United States imports frozen tuna loins, steaks and fillets that enter the non-sashimi market segments.

Indonesian exports to the European Union have also be fluctuating, showing a decrease for 2017. The decrease is related to reduced exports to Spain, Italy and Portugal. Spain continues to account for half of the total EU import volume.

Export products in 2017 (tonnes)

Trade Map (2018), International Trade Centre, intracen.org

The export of fresh products and frozen products almost tripled during the last ten years from 46,146 tons in 2004 to 132,732 tonnes in 2014, especially the exports of frozen whole fish which increased dramatically. In the two years after that export decreased, which can be attributed to the decline of frozen whole, and skipjack fillets which almost

halved in the period from 2014 to 2016. In 2017 the export of frozen skipjack picked up again, increasing with 50,000 tonnes.

Different tuna species serve different markets and segments. Freshly chilled products constitute mostly yellowfin and bigeye tuna. The export share of freshly chilled products show a decrease over the recent years. Skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna and albacore compose the largest share of the frozen tuna products. Export of frozen products has increased again from 61,758 in 2016 to 108,573 in 2017. Frozen fillets are comprised of 86% skipjack tuna and 14% swordfish. The export of frozen fillets has increased slightly between 2016-2017 with 6%, due to increased exports of skipjack fillets.

Want to get involved in tuna fisheries, processing or trading in Indonesia? Get in touch with us!

Risk assessment

Environmental risks

  • IUU fishing
  • Over exploitation of fish stocks
  • Unwanted bycatch of endangered species like sharks and sea turtles

Social risks

  • Slavery on fishing boats
  • Working conditions in processing in distant areas
  • Corruption

Quality and supply chain risks

  • Cold chain and post harvest loses
  • Lack of facilities in fishing ports
  • Traceability of the products

Species in Indonesia

Click on the species and find out more about the species in Indonesia

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