As the world’s fishing stocks are being depleted, fishing yields are naturally becoming smaller. Fishermen from different countries are vying with each other to get hold of the limited fish resources that do remain. Fishing boats from China, in particular, have been illegally entering the fishing waters of other nations and attempting to make their catches in these waters, and this has been increasing tensions between China and places like South Korea, Japan and the Philippines.
China and South Korea have already signed a fisheries agreement, the terms of which specifically prohibit Chinese vessels from entering and fishing in South Korean waters, but the agreement has had little practical effect. Last month a Chinese fisherman stabbed a South Korean coast guard attempting to arrest him.
The government of South Korea announced a new policy in response to this incident, giving the coast guard permission to open fire should circumstances necessitate such a resort to force when apprehending Chinese fishing boats illegally fishing in South Korean waters. It also increased the coast guard’s budget, boosting both vessel numbers and manpower, and doubled the maximum fine for illegal fishing from 100 million won (US$86,000) to 200 million won, with higher fines for repeat offenders. Bail for these offenses has also been increased from 70 million won to 100 million won.
It is hoped that these measures will go some way to reducing the occurrence of this activity and satisfy the South Korean fishermen unhappy with the situation as it stands. There are also plans to work together with Japan on the issue.
The problem is, the adoption of these measures may well anger Chinese fishermen and inflame tensions between the countries involved, affecting regional peace and stability. As a result, all eyes are on how the situation is playing out.
Incursions by Chinese fishermen into Taiwanese waters are nothing new, either. Cross-strait tensions may have been easing recently and trade in agricultural and fisheries products is quite healthy, but Chinese fishermen are intentionally crossing over into our territorial waters, and even using prohibited fishing methods — dynamite, toxic chemicals, electrocution and bottom trawling — that kill everything in the water. These methods could seriously damage the marine ecology.
Only a few days ago Chinese vessels were fishing in the waters around Kinmen, at the same time endangering the security of passenger ferries between China and Taiwan’s outlying islands (the “three small links.”)
Taiwan’s coast guard has opted to take a soft approach. Even in the more serious cases they have failed to confiscate the illegal catches or the fishing equipment. The fines levied are insufficient to stop them from offending again. This has made Taiwanese fishermen cry foul and they have called on the government to adopt stricter, more effective measures to ensure their economic survival. They seem to be taking their cues from what has happened in South Korea.
However, just as their Chinese counterparts have been entering our waters, some Taiwanese fishermen have also been fishing illegally in China’s waters, despite China setting a fishing moratorium to conserve stocks in the South China Sea.
They have been catching fish there, despite the fishing ban, and have been selling fish from their boats on the sea, again illegally, and even been involved in smuggling.