Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Government should work to protect fishermen

By Lee Ken-cheng 李根政

In the past few months, I have made a few friends from Chipei, an islet in the Penghu archipelago. Our friendship is a result of our shared opposition to the Tourism Bureau's plan to lease the islet's most important tourism sites to developers for a build-operate-transfer project worth NT$20 million over 50 years.

I was able to interview an elderly man named Mr. Yang, who has several decades of fishing experience in the Chipei area. Yang is over 70 years old, but he still goes to sea to fish. He becomes very animated when he starts talking about how he designed and built his own fishing gear more than 30 years ago. His eyes still shine as he counts every full haul of fish. More than 30 years ago, he would go out on a small boat at around 5pm or 6pm to catch cuttlefish. At dawn, he would shift to fishing for tilapia. Within an hour, he could catch six or seven large fish, each measuring more than 1m in length and weighing 50kg to 60kg. In one fishing season, he could catch 200 fish. Sometimes he could catch 400 to 500 croakers, each measuring 1m, in a day.

In 1960, Yang could earn several hundred thousand NT dollars from fishing for silver herring, cuttlefish, neritic squid, croaker and skipjack.

Today, a whole day's work by five or six people on a 480 horsepower boat will sometimes yield only a single Spanish mackerel, weighing a little more than 5kg. The rich fishing grounds of yore are gone. Many fishermen simply don't go out to fish anymore. They just buy from Chinese fishing boats and resell.

I asked why the catch had fallen so dramatically in recent years. Yang immediately identified intrusive fishing by Chinese boats as the key factor. He has seen the horrifying fishing tools used by Chinese boats, such as the "semi-celestial net," which uses iron chains to scrape up all obstacles from the bottom of the sea, including coral, leaving no place for the fish to hide.

Next, truck tires are dragged across the sea bed. Then comes the all-encompassing net, which catches just about everything. A month of such fishing leaves a good fishing ground dead.

There is also the "three-layer net" used to catch lobster. The net is only about 90cm high, but one fishing boat can lay 40,000m to 50,000m of nets.

Most of these terrifying "glass threads" (transparent nets) are abandoned on the seabed once they are broken by reefs. They form a multilayered trap that turns the seabed into a graveyard.

The waters off Penghu, where fish and shrimp used to be prevalent, have been left in a sweeping, terrifying silence. To ecologists, this is a terrible disaster for many species. From humanity's perspective, it is unwise exploitation, the same as draining water from a pond to catch fish. It squanders posterity's wealth.

What is most infuriating is that the authorities are unable to tackle the behavior of Chinese fishing boats. Despite petitions from Penghu's fishermen, they respond with lethargy. The country's territorial waters are undefended.

The authorities propose independence and seek Taiwanese sovereignty, but is it all empty talk? As they chatter about sustainable development, how can they sit back and watch as the seas turn lifeless?

On behalf of fishermen like Yang, who have been deprived of marine resources, and citizens concerned about marine industries and culture, I would like to ask the government to instruct the departments concerned to take responsibility for defending the nation's waters and activate the national defense mechanism to prevent intrusive fishing by Chinese fishing boats.

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