Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Fishery MPAs need local control

By Chen Chung-ling 陳璋玲

According to official figures, Taiwan’s marine protection areas (MPAs) cover approximately 30,000km2, accounting for roughly 46 percent of the nation’s maritime territorial waters. This is quite an impressive statistic, and one that far exceeds the target of 10 percent by the year 2020 stipulated in the Nagoya Protocol adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 10th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 10) in 2010.

A closer look at the areas included in the MPAs will perhaps tell us whether these figures show the government’s long-term marine management policy is working, or whether they are merely meant to make the government look good.

The government has designated three levels of MPA. Fishing boats are prohibited from entering or affecting areas of the first level. The second-level areas are called “no-take zones,” where catching fish is prohibited. The areas of the lowest level are called “areas for multiple use.” Of these, the main areas of multiple use extend along the coast 3 nautical miles (5.5km) offshore, an area in which trawling is not permitted.

Although it is technically correct to refer to these as protection areas, they cover a huge area, and if they are not actively managed or effectively monitored, it does not really matter what they are called, for they would really be MPAs on paper only.

In addition, Taiwan recognizes these areas as MPAs because of the fishing restrictions applied to them. With the same logic you could also call the high seas, with the global moratorium on drift netting there, protection areas. This makes us look pretty silly.

Yet there we have it. The government regards an area 3 nautical miles off the coast as an MPA. Given this, we do have to ask exactly how this protection area is regulated in practice, and what specific targets placed on ecological conservation, fishery stock use and social and economic criteria are being met.

When catch volumes have remained for many years at the rather low level of 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes, when fishermen regularly complain of there not being any fish to catch, and there are reports of issues of contamination such as in the notorious “green oyster incident” (綠牡蠣事件), you do have to wonder whether this entire area really is as protected as the name suggests.

If this 3 nautical mile offshore strip is to become a bona fide MPA, as opposed to one in name only, the government needs to take more positive action. These marine areas are traditional fishing grounds, and one viable way they can be regulated is by employing the existing exclusive fishery rights system, a community-based fisheries management system operated on the local level.

Japan has operated a system like this for many years, through self-regulation by fishermen under government guidance, and 387 no-take zones — regarded as part of the protected areas — have already been established in the coastal seas there. It is true that, in Taiwan, the government has made major improvements to the system over the last few years, including regular reviews of how the fishery rights areas are being managed.

Despite this, the system is still far from being true community-based fisheries management. Findings from my own analysis of the system have been published in an overseas periodical.

Basically, there are many ways in which the system can be improved. For example, there need to be more participation by fishermen, clearer targets and regulations, and more specific delineation of the respective responsibilities of the government and those who own the fishery rights.

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