In January, a Maine-based seafood importer, North Atlantic Inc., announced that it is expanding its processing sites in Indonesia. The company is a major supplier of high quality seafood to the US market, much of it coming from Indonesian waters, such as yellowfin tuna, albacore, swordfish, mahi-mahi, grouper and snapper. P.T. Bali Seafood, its Indonesian subsidiary, will open four new processing locations on the outer islands of the archipelago, closer to the fishing areas. Processing seafood when it is freshly caught will help reduce waste, increase sustainability, and boost profits, the company says.
The Indonesian government is interested in investing in North Atlantic’s project, as it coincides with their crackdown on illegal fishing. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Indonesian law enforcement have begun working closely to prevent and counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The DOJ will provide training for prosecutors and judges in Indonesia and help build cooperation between Indonesia and Interpol.
As part of an ongoing effort to preserve and protect Indonesia’s marine ecology and resources, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated $33 million for a five year conservation and sustainable fishing program in Indonesia’s coral triangle area in 2014. In December 2015, USAID granted Indonesia another $40 million to marine and fisheries management as well as water and sanitation.
Indonesia was the second largest source of imported shrimp in the US in 2015. While North Atlantic Inc. imports seafood from Indonesia to the US, the state of Maine also exports significant quantities of fishing and agricultural goods to many countries in Asia. In 2014, Maine’s total goods exports to Indonesia were valued at $9.2 million, and paper goods were the largest category at a value of $7.7 million. Indonesia, meanwhile, exported about $71 million worth of goods to Maine in 2014, the largest export being forestry products at a value of $32 million.
From February 15-16th, President Obama held a historic summit hosting ASEAN leaders in Sunnylands, California. Following the summit, Obama announced he would sign legislation banning the import of seafood exports from Southeast Asia caught by forced labor, demonstrating that while trade is important to US-ASEAN relations, the US is still dedicated to ensuring fair labor practices with international partners.
Melissa Newcomb is a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.