Shipping off to Sumbawa

Created on Friday, 30 March 2018

FishWise’s networks and activities span the globe, and this month’s blog feature is no exception. Senior Project Manager Erin Taylor brings you stories from her time with partner North Atlantic Inc./Bali Seafood International in Sumbawa, Indonesia this past February, where she observed a ceremony to commission NAI/BSI’s new fish processing plant–a bold vision years in the making.


Within the realm of FishWise, I sit on the business engagement side of things, which means most of my time is spent engaging fast-paced seafood industry partners on sustainability issues and wading knee-deep into company operationsa day-to-day reality resting pretty far downstream in the supply chain.

If you ever find yourself in similar such hustle and bustle and need a solution to bring you back down to earth (or in my case, water), might I suggest a trip to the communities of Sumbawa, Indonesia?

This is exactly where I found myself in mid-February 2018: specifically, in the village of Teluk Santong, Plampang, Sumbawa Regency, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. Say that ten times fast.

Since early 2017, I have been coordinating FishWise’s partnership with Portland, Maine-based seafood company North Atlantic, Inc. (NAI) and their Indonesian subsidiary, Bali Seafood International (BSI). In 2018, NAI and BSI have already seen a plethora of successesfrom President and Founder Jerry Knecht’s Seafood Champion nomination, to recognition from Walmart for their sustainability efforts, to induction into the industry-leading alliance Sea Pactbut the crowning jewel of it all was an event that NAI and BSI had been working toward for years. 

Jerry Knecht, “Sheriff” of BSI

After establishing NAI in the 80s and growing this North American business for over two decades, Jerry took a leap of faith to found BSI. His vision? Build a viable business with Indonesia’s teeming fisheries, but more importantly, make sure the benefits of that business were used for the good of Indonesian fishing communities.

Fast forward over ten years, and the first major piece of Jerry’s vision is complete: a fish processing plant, plopped directly into a fishing village. On February 22, after years of honing the vision, raising capital, navigating permitting and siting challenges, and managing construction logistics in a developing region, BSI could finally cut the ceremonial ribbon for its modernized, spotless, ten-ton production capacity facility. 

BSI’s Santong plant, denoted by the red arrow, is surrounded by
other buildings that will provide ancillary services to the community

The idea is for this plant to be the economic driver behind the rest of the vision: when fishermen have access to ice and the fish can be processed right away, rather than shipped elsewhere with poor handling first, you get better fish, and more money for that fish. These gains can be reinvested back into everything else surrounding the plant: an education center offering classes on English and preventative healthcare; a canteen and housing for employees; a microfinance office offering access to credit. Despite resting on a “foundation of fish,” this model is about so much more.

For me, this concept really hit home upon finally meeting the people of Sumbawa. On Commissioning Day, the entire village of Santongtallying over 400 peopleturned out to celebrate this development. With government officials from high offices in the province arriving to speak, the event was highly anticipated, evidenced perhaps most clearly in the care BSI’s office staff took in donning traditional dress, which they had been planning for weeks beforehand.

The plant office staff’s traditional dress took weeks of preparation, reflecting the importance of the day to the community.
FishWiser Erin Taylor and Bali-based BSI admin Inten Andayani join in to make sure the effort is captured for posterity!

I learned that since last August, over 70 locals have been hired to staff the plant, and 60% of these new jobs are held by women. Starting in November, BSI has been training staff on good fish handling practices and technical skills for plant operations. With many staff between the ages of 20-30, this offers a solid platform for early career development. At full capacity, the plant and support systems will support around 150 new jobs.

The impacts of the plant’s opening are even stretching to other nearby islands; I met a painter named Rhon fishing on the pier who had come to Santong from Lombok, the island directly west of Sumbawa. He was there for a week to paint some of the plant’s fencing.

Rhon, a painter from Lombok, fishes on the dock off BSI’s plant.
He traveled to Santong for the week to paint the plant’s fencing, showing the reach of job creation.

The personal impact of the plant was evident through all those I spoke with. Burhanuddin, a Sumbawa native hailing from a family of fishers, told me he had been hoping for a processing plant like BSI’s in the area since his days as a young fisherman. His entrepreneurial spirit has taken him from being an independent fisher (who won the Indonesian National Fishing Champion award in 2010) to a fish aggregator partnering with BSI. According to Burhanuddin, the best part of working with BSI is being able to hire local workers and pay them a salary that supports their families.

Burhanuddin, a fish aggregator who partners with BSI, shares his experiences
as a fisherman and the impacts BSI is having on the community

At the end of the day, a processing plant is an organized pile of concrete, steel, and wires. But the broad, long-term vision this plant represents, the people who are shaping and supporting it, and the tangible social and environmental impacts that are already starting and that will continue to spout from it, come together to form one truly refreshing and inspiring sustainability story.

And that’s what I call a solution.

Though Erin can’t speak much Indonesian (yet!), thumbs-up and smiles are always a common language.