Disputes about fishing vessels illegally crossing borders are frequent and it will be hard to bring a peaceful end to these disagreements. While we often hear about non-Taiwanese fishing vessels illegally entering the waters of other countries to fish, Taiwanese fishing vessels do this more often than boats from other countries.
According to one official statistic, 39 Taiwanese fishing vessels were detained by foreign governments from 2000 to 2002. Taiwan’s actions have attracted strong criticism from international maritime conservation groups. To allow our fishermen to go out to sea with peace of mind and prevent incidents from setting off larger disputes with other countries, the government needs to face up to the severity of these problems and come up with concrete ways of solving them.
Taiwan’s 200km exclusive economic zone overlaps at many points with the exclusive economic zones of China, the Philippines and Japan, but the government has drawn up what it calls a “temporary enforcement line.” Not having engaged in talks with other countries to secure approval for this line, the government has not been able to forcefully protect its fishermen. This has resulted in Taiwanese fishing vessels often entering contentious areas, with the less serious cases involving the seizure of Taiwanese boats and huge fines, while the more serious cases have resulted in prison terms and even the deaths of fishermen. Many of these cases still require outside assistance to be resolved.
Given Taiwan’s current international political situation and the increasing complexity of maritime disputes, relying on official negotiations to get Taiwanese fishermen greater fishing rights is a lot easier said than done, as can be seen from the slow pace of the current fishing negotiations between Taiwan and the Philippines, and negotiations with Japan.
Although the government has established the Overseas Fisheries Development Council in the hope that fishing access fees can be used to legally acquire expanded fishing rights for the nation’s fishermen, the effects of this effort have been limited. The fishing access fees of some nations have been continuously increasing, which has created financial burdens on fishing vessel companies.
The government hopes to get more maritime space in which Taiwanese fishermen can work safely by cooperating and negotiating with fisheries organizations in other countries. However, this is an extremely difficult task and the concerned government departments should not pretend it will be easy.
To maintain stable development in the fishing industry, Taiwan’s fishing policies must be reformed by decreasing overcapacity and restoring coastal fishing resources. At a time when fishing space in international waters is being restricted, and fish stocks are declining in the region and globally, Taiwan has too many fishing vessels and too much capacity. Productivity is dropping, leading to overfishing and the depletion of fish populations. For many fishing vessels, the income from fish caught is not enough to meet operational costs and to cut down on labor costs, many Taiwanese fishing operations still rely on large numbers of foreign fishermen who will work for less money. This is also a contributing factor in the bloody disputes that keep happening out at sea.