Indonesia - Australia Fisheries Cooperation

The Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Indonesia Relating to Cooperation in Fisheries (1992 Fisheries Cooperation Agreement) provides the framework for fisheries and marine cooperation between Australia and Indonesia, and facilitates information exchange on research, management and technological developments, complementary management of shared stocks, training and technical exchanges, aquaculture development, trade promotion and cooperation to deter illegal fishing. 

Cooperation under the Agreement today takes place under the auspices of the Working Group on Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

Established in 2001, the Working Group on Marine Affairs and Fisheries is the primary bilateral forum to enhance collaboration across the spectrum of marine and fisheries issues relevant to the areas of the Arafura and Timor seas.  The Working Group brings together  the fisheries, environment and scientific research portfolios and agencies from both countries.  DAFF takes the lead for Australia and  the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries for Indonesia. The Working Group meets annually.

In 2010 the Working Group agreed to:

  • continue work on developing and implementing measures to deter and reduce illegal fishing activity
  • enhance fisheries management, conservation and research (including in the area known as the MOU Box, see below)
  • continue training and capacity development programs
  • continue developing seafood quarantine and safety processes, and 
  • consider mechanisms to further enhance cooperation on marine environmental issues. 
A major initiative under the Working Group is the joint conduct of the Public Information Campaign in eastern Indonesia delivering information to coastal fishing communities about the serious impacts of illegal fishing and the consequences fishers face if caught fishing illegally in Australian waters.

Memorandum of Understanding Box

The MOU Box is an area of Australian water in the Timor Sea where Indonesian traditional fishers, using traditional fishing methods only, are permitted to operate. Officially it is known as the Australia-Indonesia Memorandum of Understanding regarding the Operations of Indonesian Traditional Fishermen in Areas of the Australian Fishing Zone and Continental Shelf – 1974.

As part of negotiations to delineate seabed boundaries, Australia and Indonesia entered into the MoU which recognises the rights of access for traditional Indonesian fishers in shared waters to the north of Australia. This access was granted in recognition of the long history of traditional Indonesian fishing in the area. The MoU provides Australia with a tool to manage access to its waters while for Indonesia, it enables Indonesian traditional fishers to continue their customary practices and target species such as trepang, trochus, abalone and sponges. Guidelines under the MoU were agreed in 1989 in order to clarify access boundaries for traditional fishers and take into account the declaration of the 200 nautical mile fishing zones. Because of its approximate shape the MoU area became known as the MoU Box.

In 1983 Australia declared a marine protected area around Ashmore Island, and in 2000 around Cartier Island.

Successive research reports on reef top species in the MoU Box  indicate that stocks in the area are severely depleted. Recognising the existence of a shared problem, in 2009 the Working Group on Marine Affairs and Fisheries agreed to a Roadmap for MoU Box Cooperative Management. The key components to progress the Roadmap are:

  • research terms of reference and a research program
  • management measures and options
  • socio-economic and livelihood aspects
  • training and capacity building needs
  • consultative processes with stakeholders and consultations with traditional fishers, taking into account their concerns including the use of technology for fishing practices.

Bilateral Fisheries Priorities

In relation to fisheries and marine affairs, the key current issue for the Australia-Indonesia relationship is IUU fishing. Australia is working with Indonesia in several fora, but primarily the Working Group on Marine Affairs and Fisheries, to address the issue.

Cooperation to progress management arrangements for the MoU Box is also a priority for the bilateral fisheries relationship, along with the cooperative management of, and capacity building in, shared stocks such as snapper and shark. Australia is also working with Indonesia to facilitate its participation in regional fisheries management organisations such as the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.