Indonesia: 'The case is irregular' - Company speaks up in Lake Toba dead fish incident

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 17 Feb 19;

Fish breeder PT Aquafarm Nusantara has begun an independent investigation into a pollution case in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, following a reprimand from the local administration, which has accused the company of the violation.

The North Sumatra administration has issued a warning to the country’s largest tilapia breeder after the recent finding of sacks of dead fish in waters near one of the company’s warehouses.

The company has denied involvement in the case and expressed its commitment to finding the perpetrators.

“An independent investigation is under way in a bid to find the truth,” Sammy Hamzah, the president commissioner of Aquafarm Nusantara, said during a visit at The Jakarta Post on Thursday. He added that former environment minister Emil Salim would be among members of the investigative team.

A diver discovered last month fish carcasses near the company’s facility, prompting multiple accusations against Aquafarm Nusantara, including overproduction and poor waste treatment.

The North Sumatra administration said it had considered reviewing or suspending the company’s permits should the violations continue.

Sammy said the company had taken steps to comply with the administration’s regulations, while regarding the dumping of the dead fish, he said it had never been the practice of the company, which is dependent on clean water to grow quality tilapia.

“[The dead fish] were found in the front of a warehouse that we no longer use,” he said.

Aquafarm Nusantara general manager Juan Carlos Martinez said the company had implemented procedures based on established standards.

“We never use antibiotics and chemicals for fish cultivation,” he said.

As for the treatment of dead fish, Martinez said the company recovered dead fish from its farms twice a day and turned them into animal feed and fertilizer that were also distributed to nearby residents.

Martinez said he was surprised that the dead fish incident was used against the company since he had reported the case to the police.

Aquafarm Nusantara, a subsidiary of the Singapore-based Regal Springs Group, has been cultivating tilapia using floating net cages in Lake Toba for more than 20 years. It is among the largest producers of tilapia in the world, producing about 22 million tons annually for the past three years.

The company started its business in Java in 1988 and then expanded to Lake Toba in 1998. Aquafarm Nusantara is the second-largest food processing company in the province and the largest employer on the lake with around 780 employees.

Achim Eichenlaub, Regal Springs Group CEO, said Aquafarm Nusantara had been exporting around 95 percent of tilapia products to the United States, European and Asian countries, while the rest was sold to the domestic market.

“As most of our tilapia production is sold in major supermarkets in developed countries, control over the standards is a must and not easy to do,” he said.

Clean water, Eichenlaub said, was the most important element to produce good quality Tilapia.

“If we polluted the lake water, it means that we wanted to end our business,” he added. (das)