Tue, Oct 24, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Tuna quotas a red herring

When it comes to tuna fishing, Taiwan is one of the world's biggest players.

Despite its small size, the nation ranks sixth among the deep-sea fishing nations in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, with a majority of its tuna catch going to satisfy domestic and Japanese demand for sashimi.

Last year the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas slashed Taiwan's quota for tuna from 14,900 tonnes to 4,600 tonnes after allegations -- ironically from one of its biggest customers, Japan -- of overfishing and fish laundering or labeling fish taken from the Atlantic Ocean as being from somewhere else.

The Council of Agriculture announced recently that it wants the nation's tuna quotas reinstated next year and will present new management and surveillance measures to the global commission next month in a bid to get the catch restored to its previous level.

The council's move is undoubtedly a result of commercial pressure, as the tuna trade is a lucrative business. Many of Taiwan's ships are owned by influential businesspeople like members of the Koo () family, whose boats often fish using flags of convenience from Pacific allies such as the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu, helping them flout national restrictions, operate extra boats and rake in more profits.

But Taiwan's stance on tuna fishing issue appears confused. While on the one hand the council is lobbying for an increase in the nation's tuna catch, on the other it has introduced rules and regulations in an attempt to practice conservation and curb over fishing. A new rule enforced by the council in June to limit the number of fishing vessels blocked the release of two new US$10 million tuna-catching purse seiners owned by Koo's Fishing Co and destined for registration in the Marshall Islands.

As expected, both Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏), chairman of Koo's Fishing, and the Marshall Islands' foreign minister decried the ruling at the time, saying that Taipei was hurting the Marshalls' fishing industry and economy.

But the government's position is a contradiction, and it should clarify its position on tuna fishing. Does it believe in conservation or exploitation? This is important because governments and fishing companies seem incapable of attaining a happy medium.

But all this haggling over quotas and licensing of boats diverts attention from the real issue -- that man's hunger for seafood is doing untold damage to the world's oceans. One prominent environmentalist recently predicted that if the global fishing industry continues unchecked, the world's fish stocks could be all but exhausted within 15 years.

Taiwan, Japan and the rest of the world need to sit up and take notice of these claims. Even if the figures are alarmist, there is no doubt about the havoc being wrought on the world's seas.

Governments and the fishing industry have got to accept that high-tech factory ships that drag giant nets along the seabed and swallow up whole schools of fish are not the way to practice sustainable fishing. Whining about fishermen's jobs when quotas or bans are introduced is a moot point. If fishing carries on in its current form, sooner or later the world's fishermen will be looking for alternative employment.

Unless nations around the globe bring in real sustainable quotas which are strictly enforced with the help of navies and coast guards, the future certainly looks bleak.

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