Seventeen years after their first fishery talks in 1996, Taiwan and Japan have finally signed the Taiwan-Japan fishery agreement.
The Fisheries Agency sees the signing as a major victory. However, according to the latest research, Taiwan’s fishery resources are declining rapidly.
If the government does not review Taiwan’s overdeveloped fishing capacity carefully, all of its fishing grounds, no matter how big, will eventually be exhausted.
The bluefin tuna season, which commences next month, is the biggest event of the year, not only for fishermen in Donggang Township (東港鄉) in Pingtung County and Suao Township (蘇澳鄉) in Yilan County, but also for restaurants across the nation.
The price of the first tuna sold is a hot topic nationwide every year.
During this time every year, bluefin tuna pass Taiwan as they move from the Philippines to Japan following the Japan Current, thus creating the famous tuna season.
However, the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean released a report on fishery resources at the end of last year that found that the volume of bluefin tuna in the area had declined by 96.4 percent between 1952 and 2011, and that they are in danger of extinction.
Bluefin tuna are considered large predators and can reach more than 300kg.
However, in Taiwan, since the limitations of fishery resources are not fully considered, intensive fishing year after year has become a serious threat to the survival of the bluefin tuna, as well as to the income of fishermen.
Last year, in fishing areas, traders complained that the days when 100 bluefin tuna or more were caught each day were long gone.
On that day, the combined catch was four bluefin tuna, and the fish market in Donggang, which was once a bustling place, was empty and quiet.
The local fishermen are worried as they are only able to catch fewer and smaller bluefin tuna these days.
As lifelong fishermen, many are at a loss about what to do about the situation and worry about their future.
More than 800 Taiwanese fishing boats trawl the waters covered by the new fishery agreement every year and they catch more than 40,000 tonnes of fish.
This means that the agreement will influence countless numbers of fishers. According to Article 2 of the agreement, the two countries agree not to overdevelop the waters to avoid depleting the region’s marine life.
As fishery resources gradually become exhausted, the Fisheries Agency should evaluate the current resource situation with caution, and further adjust the size of the nation’s fishery industry.
In the past, the number of bluefin tunas in the Atlantic Ocean declined drastically due to overfishing.
As a result, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as the Washington Convention, has banned international trading of such tunas from the Atlantic Ocean since 2009, and this had a significant impact on the related industries.
Today, the blue-fin tuna in the Pacific Ocean are facing extinction.
The Fisheries Agency should manage such resources effectively and implement an early-warning principle.
It will not matter how large our fishing grounds are if there are no fish there.
Yen Ning is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.
Translated by Eddy Chang