As election fever for next year’s presidential elections begins to build, the oceans are once again a major issue. The fishing industry plays an important role in the nation’s maritime economy. However, fishermen only seem to gain the attention of politicians in the run-up to elections, only to be forgotten again after all the votes have been cast.
Presidential candidates promise they will pull out all the stops and address the issue of the oceans, but all they can promise is hardship or blue skies ahead. Candidates and their campaign teams need to come up with some concrete proposals; it is not possible to govern on sound bites alone.
The reason the fisheries industry in Taiwan is in such dire straits is because government policy has never truly been adequate to the task. Government policy plays a crucial role in the development of the fisheries industry and fisheries policy is categorized as public policy, not something decided on the whim of some senior government official and certainly not some outsider unfamiliar with the industry. Unfortunately, for a long time now the competent authorities have largely ignored fisheries policy, in terms of both its importance and its need for specialist attention and have generally been content to stick with short-term responses to crises, without any mid to long-term strategic planning or concrete goals.
For several years the government has also been locked in a numbers game, blindly pursuing increased production levels and higher international rankings while disregarding the sustainability and conservation of fishing stocks. This is also opening the nation up to criticism from international fishery conservation groups and creating more difficult working conditions for fishermen. At no point have any of the candidates touched upon any of the core issues of improved technology and administrative operation within the industry.
The procedure employed for creating the fisheries policy should, at the very least, include five elements:
First is isolating the problems and having a clear understanding of their nature and scope.
Second is establishing objectives, laying out directional guidelines and evaluation standards for developing policy.
Third there is devising alternatives: a range of methods, measures and ways to find solutions and achieve objectives.
Next there is policy selection, deciding between the various alternatives for solving problems.
Finally, there is the issue of legality, ensuring the selection process complies with due process, to facilitate legislation of the policy objectives, ensuring the policy succeeds.
There are also qualities essential to any policymaker worth their salt. They have to be prepared to listen to ideas and differing opinions, and not to confine themselves to their own inner circle; they need to respect the value of scientific evaluation, and understand how to use it as a policymaking tool; they have to consider everyone’s interests, and not just those of major ship owners and financial groups and they must be able to be decisive.
The 21st century belongs to the oceans. Every other advanced nation in the world is devising its own development strategy, according to the unique skills and strengths of its people.
This new era gives Taiwan a fantastic opportunity to once again shine on the international stage. The one crucial factor is whether Taiwan’s leaders are able to meet this challenge and come up with strategies for the oceans and the fisheries industry.
The electorate needs to listen carefully to what the candidates are saying, and to make a rational choice about who would be best for Taiwan on a whole range of issues.
Du Yu is chief executive officer of the Chen-Li Task Force for Agricultural Reform.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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