Australian maritime law is undermining the livelihoods of Pepela fishermen
Brooke Nolan and Philip Vincent
Life is hard in the fishing village of Pepela
In the village of Pepela in southeast Rote, East Nusa Tenggara, over 80 per cent of the population rely on fishing as their main source of income. But for almost four decades Australian law has caused the Pepela people – indigenous Rotenese, Alorese and many Bajau Laut migrants from Southeast Sulawesi – to encounter significant difficulties continuing their traditional fishing in the Timor Sea. These problems began in 1974 when new sea boundary arrangements were negotiated between Indonesia and Australia in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This resulted in some traditional Indonesian fishing areas coming within the jurisdiction of Australian law. Fishing in some regions was subsequently banned and fishing methods in the remaining regions became strictly regulated.
Since then, many fishermen from Pepela have been apprehended by Australian authorities and imprisoned in Australia for extended periods. The MOU’s prohibition against the use of technology has contributed to the deaths of numerous fishermen during cyclones. Instead of acting as a deterrent against fishing, has simply increased the suffering of an already impoverished population.
The MOU and the Australian Fishing Zone
The MOU, signed by President Suharto and Prime Minister Whitlam in 1974, established that only ‘traditional’ Indonesian fishermen were allowed to fish in the Australian Fishing Zone on