Wed, May 30, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Dead seas net result of fish policy

By DU YU 杜宇

Overfishing has reached the point where our capacity to catch fish has exceeded the ability of fish stocks to replenish themselves with the result that global marine resources are being rapidly depleted. For this reason, an international consensus has arisen urging the imposition of restrictions and the implementation of strict controls over the exploitation of marine resources — in an effort to allow fish stocks to rebuild. To a large extent, this drive will also help reduce the development of open sea fishing.

Finding the right balance between protecting fish resources, giving fishing communities the chance to make a living and satisfying consumer demand has become the focus for nations which border the sea as they seek to develop their fishing industries.

Taiwan is surrounded by an ocean where the waters of the Kuroshio current (black tide) and the Oyashio current (parent tide) meet, making the island a once-fertile fishing ground. Unfortunately, the absence of a long-term fishing industry development strategy and the unbridled exploitation of this resource have conspired to substantially reduce fish stocks. Taiwan has the highest concentration of fishing ports in the world — many of which have fallen into disuse — but these former ports tend to export more mosquitoes than fish these days.

The days of big catches of snakehead fish, glass eels, tuna and flying fish are well and truly over. Fish markets and wholesale outlets these days are full of imported frozen fish with little freshly caught fish on sale. Catches of highly valuable fish are usually sold to the Chinese.

Government institutions responsible for the fishing industry say that the government takes the conservation of fishing stocks seriously and is setting aside large funds for projects such as releasing fish fry and laying artificial reefs. They claim there have been promising results. Statistics, however, paint a different picture. According to official figures, the catch volume for near-sea and coastal fishing is 129,000 tonnes and 35,000 tonnes respectively, with a value of NT$8.9 billion (US$300.3 million) and NT$2.6 billion. These figures are actually lower than they were 10 years ago, when they stood at 159,000 tonnes and 50,000 tonnes, with a value of NT$12.3 billion and NT$4.4 billion. Also, the near-sea and coastal catch volume represents just 10.99 percent and 2.98 percent of the total catch volume.

This shocking state of affairs illustrates the need for a major overhaul of Taiwan’s fisheries policy. The government should restructure the industry as soon as possible, before our fishermen’s very subsistence is decided from outside through international fishing quota allocations.

We are seeing various trends develop: Catches are dwindling as the number of fishing vessels continues to climb. Also, we are seeing large, high-value varieties of fish being replaced with smaller, less-valuable species, while carnivorous, higher forms of marine life are replaced by lower, planktivorous forms.

Fish are an important source of animal protein for humans and are part of an international industry worth US$120 billion a year. Something like 260 million people around the world rely on the fishing industry for a living. If we are serious about promoting a sustainable fishing industry, I would recommend we adopt a number of measures.

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