Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, has control over vast (fish-rich) seas and waters. As such, the nation already ranks among the largest producers in aquaculture worldwide. However, as in other sectors of the economy, the country is yet to tap the full potential of the fishery sector and optimize profitability. Considering that Indonesia's population numbers more than 250 million people there is not only potentially large foreign demand but also large domestic demand for fishery products. Improvement in efficiency is crucial in order to boost both quantity and quality of Indonesia's seafood products. Most local fishermen still use traditional (non-efficient) techniques as well as equipment. Apart from raising quantity, higher quality products in this sector are also expected to boost demand from abroad for Indonesia fishery products (such as fish, shrimp and crab).

Based on the latest data from Indonesia's Statistics Agency (BPS), Indonesia's fishery sector expanded 8.37 percent (y/y) in the third quarter of 2015, considerably higher than the nation's overall economic growth (at 4.73 percent y/y) in the same quarter. Indonesian exports of fishery products stood at USD $244.6 million in October 2015, while imports only reached USD $12.5 million (implying a trade surplus of USD $232.04 million).

Pudjiastuti said growth of Indonesia's fishery sector is primarily supported by the increase in production of both captured and cultivated fish. According to data from BPS, production of captured fish rose 5.03 percent (y/y) to 4.72 million ton (particularly tunas), while production of cultivated fish rose 3.98 percent (y/y) to 10.07 million tons  up to the third quarter of 2015.

Despite global uncertainties and sluggish global growth, Minister Pudjiastuti is optimistic about growth of Indonesia's fishery sector in 2016 as the central government has earmarked IDR 13.8 trillion (approx. USD $1 billion) in the 2016 State Budget for the Maritime Affairs Ministry, up 31.4 percent from the allocation in the 2015 State Budget. Pudjiastuti said the country's fishermen will be prioritized when spending these funds.

Slamet Soebjakto, General Director of Fish Cultivation at the Maritime Ministry, is optimistic that cultivated fish production will rise continuously in the years ahead as fish cultivation areas are wide in Indonesia, and yet remain largely unused. There are currently 11.8 million hectares for fish cultivation in seawater, 2.3 million hectares for fish cultivation in  brackish water, and 2.5 million hectares for fish cultivation in freshwater.

Growth of captured fish in Indonesia is also expected to expand on the ending of the moratorium on the issuance of fishing permits to those who use ex-foreign fishing boats. This moratorium, which ended in October 2015, was imposed in November last year after it had been suspected that fishermen were using ex-foreign fishing boats for illegal fishing activities in Indonesian waters.

Indonesia's Maritime Ministry targets growth of production of captured fish at 2.4 percent to 6.45 million tons in 2016, while growth of production of cultivated fish is targeted at 8.72 percent to 19.5 million tons. Thomas Darmawan, Chairman of the Indonesian Fishery Product Processing & Marketing Association (AP5I), said the Maritime Ministry's production targets next year make sense as the warmer weather (caused by El Nino) boost fish population growth. Darmawan stated that there is ample amount of fish in Indonesian waters. The weak quality of ships and equipment, however, is the reason why production is still relatively low.

Darmawan also expects to see higher demand for Indonesian fish from abroad as the Indonesian government has been combating illegal fishing in its waters. Over the past year, there have been several cases in which foreign boats (used by Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese fishermen) were seized and destroyed after being caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. As illegal fishing is curtailed neighboring countries will obtain less illegal fish and therefore demand for Indonesian fish exports should rise.

The largest importer of Indonesian fishery products is the United States. This country accounted for 41 percent of Indonesia's total fishery exports last year, followed by Japan (16 percent). Europe (12 percent) and ASEAN countries (11 percent).

Shrimp remains the main export article among Indonesia fishery products, followed by tuna and blue swimmer crab. In 2016 exports of shrimp and other fishery products are estimated to rise due to the start of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). This AEC aims to enhance regional economic integration among the ASEAN member states by transforming the region into one that is characterized by a freer movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and capital. Moreover, the USA scrapped import duties for 34 fisheries products from Indonesia in mid-2015 (under its generalized system of preference).