Sat, May 19, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Get a grip on fishing sector before it’s too late

By Nien Ching-ko 粘清課

The recent hikes in oil prices have meant that many fishermen are finding the money they get for their catch will not cover costs. Some can not see the point in even taking their boats out and are demanding more subsidies on the fuel they use.

Over the past 50 years the nation’s marine resources have been depleted by over 80 percent. In the Taiwan Strait, fish stocks are now only 10 percent of what they once were. This huge change in our marine ecology has meant that fishermen cannot afford to throw back fish that are considered too young.

The government is thinking about how to make the fishing industry sustainable and every year the Council of Agriculture’s Fisheries Agency spends huge amounts of money on measures designed to reduce the size of the fishing fleet in an attempt to reduce the number of fish being caught. These efforts, however, are being frustrated by advances in fishing technology which ensure that fishing vessels return to port loaded with a full catch.

The press coverage every year at the start of the tuna season down in Pingtung, when the first fish of the year comes in, is full of comments about how humans have conquered the oceans and how honorable this is (or should that be ignorant?)

Any government policy made on fishing nowadays needs to take into account the protection of fish stocks and the government should not allow votes to dictate policy direction.

The majority of fishing vessels use diesel, which the government subsidizes by 14 percent. This subsidy, together with an additional subsidy for gasoline and commodity and business tax exemptions, means that fishermen pay considerably lower than the market price for fuel.

The government also offers incentives for fishermen willing to accept a self-imposed fishing moratorium — in other words, not taking their boats out to sea. Fishing vessels based in Taiwanese ports or harbors that go out to sea for more than 90 days in a year and which also dock in the port for the same amount of time, can apply to the local fishery association for a moratorium subsidy, the actual amount of which will depend on the size of the vessel.

However, if we are to promote a sustainable fishing industry in Taiwan, the government should not be increasing fuel subsidies for fishing vessels. Instead, it should be relaxing the criteria for qualifying for volunteer fishing moratorium subsidies to encourage fishermen to stay in port.

Many fishing vessels are still having to go out fishing in order to accumulate their 90 or more days’ fishing so that they can qualify for the subsidies. Why not change the annual requirement to 120 days in port and 60 days fishing? That would reduce the size of the annual catch for the majority of fishermen, while ensuring that they could still receive the government subsidy. Such a policy would be a win-win situation.

We are going to face even greater challenges in the way we exploit our marine resources. In addition to the problem of over-fishing, which we currently need to address, there are other pressing issues which are cause for concern:Rises in ocean temperature which cause fish to move territory or even go extinct and the acidification of ocean waters are all contributing to the further depletion of our marine resources.

A country like Taiwan that depends on its thriving fishing industry cannot just sit idly by as it goes down — with all hands on deck.

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