Wed, Jun 10, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese must learn to protect the ocean

By Du Yu 杜宇

The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day on Monday was “healthy oceans, healthy planet.” However, the garbage and plastic pollution in Taiwan’s waters is becoming increasingly serious. Coastal fishing resources are being depleted, yet Greenpeace’s “conscientious sushi project” aimed at getting restaurants to implement sustainable seafood procurement policies has not gained much traction. Taiwanese still are a long way from caring for the ocean.

The oceans have been severely damaged by human activity. Conservationists repeatedly appeal to the public to pay attention to ocean pollution and warn that fish may one day disappear. However, due to huge economic interests — illegal fishing activities that generate illegal annual profits up to US$23.5 billion, tourism that produces huge amounts of garbage, overfishing that has surpassed the sustainable fishing rate by 2.5 times and oil and chemical spills and nuclear fallout — the problems are getting worse. The deterioration of marine resources and the environment requires a more diverse, economic-based approach to managing and protecting marine resources.

As a member of the global village, Taiwan should annually mark World Oceans Day and reflect on its responsibility to protect the ocean.

First, there should be strict controls of illegal fishing. Authorities worldwide, through cooperation and a global fishing licensing system, are doing all they can to curtail illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. Aside from severing ties between Taiwan and illegal fishing to avoid such products entering the fish-product market and being exported abroad, the government must enact tough monitoring practices as Taiwanese fishing boats continue to illegally intrude on the economic zones of other nations.

The government must implement fishing boat management to force boat owners to follow the rules, lest the entire Taiwanese fishing industry suffer.

Second, the government should change its outreach methods. Overfishing is the main culprit behind the destruction of ocean resources, and the real cause of overfishing lies in the government’s implementation of harmful subsidies, trying to satisfy consumer demand and an improper food culture.

Pingtung’s annual Bluefin Tuna Cultural Festival, Keelung’s neritic squid season activities, Suao’s Mackerel Day, Kaohsiung’s Milkfish Culture Festival, Hualien’s mambo fish season and Taitung’s flying fish season are used to promote tourism, but ignore bigger environmental concerns. Many government activities promote the purchase and consumption of fish, fostering an environment of shameless indulgence.

There is a reason other countries accuse Taiwan of having a seafood culture, but not a marine culture. This is why, aside from stressing appropriate catch sizes and establishing preventative measures, the government should educate the public on food culture basics to improve awareness of the ocean and fish consumption.

Agencies handling marine affairs should be integrated as they require a dedicated agency to conduct systematic integration to promote sustainable development of the ocean.

The government has said it would establish a marine conservation department. However, the responsibilities of maritime affairs remain scattered among Cabinet-level bodies.

Finally, the government should improve maritime protected area management to protect marine ecology. The key issue is how to effectively manage such zones, not focus on their size and number.

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