Sun, Jun 28, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Changing Taiwan’s fishing culture

By Du Yu 杜宇

Taiwan is surrounded by sea. Where the cold subarctic Oyashio current and the north-flowing Kuroshio current collide off east Japan creates fertile conditions for fishing. However, Taiwan’s leaders have long followed policies favoring cultivation of land food sources over maritime ones and have little concept of how to make use of maritime resources. At the same time, industrial and household waste has polluted coastal areas and destroyed maritime ecology. Farmers have consistently been favored over fishermen, whether it be in terms of budget, personnel allocation, or status of organizations. Fishermen have been largely ignored by the government.

Even though the new ocean era has arrived with the passing of four pieces of legislation on the regulation of maritime issues, the fisheries industry remains constrained by the conflict between domestic and international issues. This is manifest in a drastic reduction in the area of international waters, limits on international fishing quotas, an increase in the cost of entering the fishing industry, the risk of armed intimidation on the seas, a shortage of personnel and crew, rising operational costs and risk, falling fishing resources along coastal areas, and an underperforming supply and sales system, all of which threaten the industry.

However, whenever there is a presidential election on the horizon, the so-called fisheries industries groups, on the instigation of government officials, will always come to the fore, sometimes even publishing swathes of ads supporting the candidate of the ruling party. It is interesting to question whether this is more about personal interest or whether the groups are genuinely representing the voice of the majority of fishermen. And the candidate will always announce, among all this frenetic campaign fanfare, assurances about how they take the development of the fisheries industry seriously.

Of course, after the victor is anointed, all of these assurances evaporate and the most that anyone gets is positions and funds in recognition of their services.

The transition of power made no difference either. It was just more of the same, leaving the local economies of fishing communities to continue to decline and the fishermen to struggle every time they went out to sea. Fishermen’s working and living conditions are difficult; work is hard to come by and matters are made worse when fishermen are illegally detained at sea, putting more pressure on depleted stocks along the coast. Scenes of bustling markets with fishermen auctioning their catch are a thing of the past: It is unlikely to be seen again.

Fishermen despair that they no longer have a safe environment in which they can fish in peace. It makes the utopian vision offered by presidential candidates all the more risible: The vision they offer is a peculiarity that comes around but once every four years, while the everyday life of fishermen remains as difficult as ever.

The lesson from these years of struggle for fishermen and their families is that if they no longer want to worry where their next meal is coming from, they should not look elsewhere to cast the blame; if they want to improve their circumstances and change their fate, they need to approach next year’s presidential election in a different way. If they do not want to continue being a stepping stone for officials looking to further their careers, fishermen should not allow themselves to be so easily mobilized in their support. They need to band together and demand that the assurances of the candidates will ensure fishermen’s safety while at sea; secure adequate fishing areas through international agreements; improve onboard working conditions and wage structures to entice young people; strictly enforce prohibitions on foreign fishing boats illegally fishing in Taiwanese waters; take active measures to allow restoration of near-sea fishing stocks; prepare a fishing catch production and marketing system; introduce measures to improve the economy of fishing communities; offer opportunities for fishermen to change their careers and move into other industries; and look into how matters can be improved through cooperation with other countries.

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