The annual bluefin tuna season has started and academics and fisheries research groups are very worried.
According to data from Japan, South Korea and Mexico, the total number of bluefin tuna caught in the Pacific Ocean has been decreasing every year over the past 10 years. A report by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean showed that over the past 60 years, the number of bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean has decreased by as much as 96.4 percent.
Greenpeace has found that this year’s bluefin tuna season event, which is held in Pingtung County’s Donggang Township (東港), was not as lively as it has been in the past. Previously, the nation’s presidents and county commissioners would personally take part in the auction of the first bluefin tuna caught each season. However, this year, organizers have instead focused on red cherry shrimp and have moved away from the promotion and sale of bluefin tuna.
Despite the decrease in tuna stocks, the government is still not addressing the issue.
The Fisheries Agency has blamed the problem on the falling number of fish farms, the decreasing number of fishing boats and climate change.
However, no matter what, they are unwilling to acknowledge the scientific research. An upper cap of 600 has been placed on the number of fishing vessels allowed, but due to the decline in bluefin tuna stocks, coupled with rising fuel and bait costs, the number of fishing vessels engaged in bluefin tuna fishing each year dropped off significantly a long time ago, rendering the cap meaningless.
From a study of the fishermen on Lamay Island (小琉球), Greenpeace discovered that over-publicizing the high prices charged for the first bluefin tuna of the season caused resentment among Taiwan’s neighbors, and the detention of Taiwanese fishermen became an increasingly common occurrence. This frightened many fishermen and had a considerable impact on their work.
The Fisheries Agency says the drop in the number of Taiwanese fishermen crossing maritime boundaries is due to the Philippines’ rigorous enforcement of maritime law in the area, and this accounts for the substantial decline in the number of bluefin tuna caught each season.
However, as a fisherman from Lamay Island asked in the Greenpeace study: “Why would we bother crossing borders to fish if there were fish in offshore waters?”
As stocks continue to decline, it is increasingly difficult to manage them.
Does the bluefin tuna season have a future? Fishermen work long and hard to supply the nation with seafood, yet their business is taking a hit as the oceans can no longer provide them with adequate catches.
We would like to call on the Fisheries Agency to discuss bluefin tuna fishing with other countries and come up with effective measures for managing fishing stocks based on the “precautionary principle.”
The people of Donggang are proud of the bluefin tuna season; this is the only way to make sure it has a future.
Yen Ning is an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace.
Translated by Drew Cameron