• 5.8m sq km exclusive economic zone
• 460,000 fishing vessels
• $5 billion lost a year to illegal fishing
• 170 ships sunk by Government for fishing unlawfully

New Zealand has agreed to help Indonesia to fight illegal fishing in its waters, which costs the southeast Asian country an estimated $5 billion a year.

After bilateral talks in Jakarta this week, Prime Minister John Key and Indonesian President Joko Widodo agreed to "combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and promote sustainable fisheries governance".

Since coming into power in 2014, Widodo has put strong emphasis on turning Indonesia into a "global maritime axis". The country signed a separate agreement with the United States in February on maritime security and sustainable fishing.


The exact details of the new formal agreement with New Zealand were "yet to be defined", Key said, but it was unlikely to require New Zealand to commit naval resources to the waters around Indonesia.

New Zealand had played a key role in tackling illegal fishing in the Pacific, and had helped Pacific countries fight illegal fishing.

"And really all we're doing here in Indonesia is a similar kind of approach, saying that this is how we do things, these are the experiences we have had, this is how we might share some ideas together."

Key said the new arrangement was "about being a good international citizen", and giving Indonesia the confidence to protect its fisheries.

"What we've really set out here is a framework under which we could operate.

"But it would depend on the circumstances, if there were New Zealand boats around or there was information which we gathered."

Up to 5000 fishing boats are believed to fish unlawfully in Indonesia's 5.8m sq km exclusive economic zone every day.

In a bid to send a strong message, Widodo has blown up illegal foreign vessels in public displays. He has sunk more than 170 in the past two years.

The policy of sinking unlawful boats reflects the broader tensions within the South China Sea. Although Indonesia is not a claimant in the region, its exclusive economic zone overlaps an area China claims it has a right to fish in.

That has prompted strong gestures from Indonesia.

Last month, Widodo sailed a navy warship to the Nutuna Islands, where China has made incursions into Indonesia's territory.

But after the talks on Monday, Key said the president had no desire to escalate the situation in the South China Sea.

"Widodo was very much of the view that we would hold, which is cool heads should prevail and try and find a way through it."