Due to the UN’s promotion of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the widespread adoption of the 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone restricting fishing on the high seas, many major fishing countries have reduced fishing in far seas and turned to aquaculture and fishing in their coastal waters.
However, Taiwan’s fisheries departments are still focused on developing the nation’s far seas fishing industry. With no effective regulations on far seas fishing in place, Taiwan is highly likely to receive a “red card” from the EU for its poor fisheries management.
Despite the government’s allocation of an annual budget for making artificial reefs and releasing seedlings, fisheries production and marine resources in coastal waters have continued to decline. In 2014, Taiwan’s offshore fisheries output reached about 140,000 tonnes, or NT$14.27 billion (US$445.2 million in current exchange rates), while its coastal fisheries production was only about 29,000 tonnes, or NT$4.08 billion. The decline has affected the economy of many villages that are heavily dependent on fishing.
Sadly, in her ocean policy, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) did not mention any concrete measures or vision for the nation’s fisheries industry. To increase marine resources along the coast, there have been many academics and fishery conservation groups who have called on the government to actively promote sea farming and set up ocean conservation areas. A look at the way Japan has been promoting sea farming over the past several decades might provide a useful reference for Taiwan.
Sea farming involves cultivating high-value aquatic life by first artificially breeding a species in a controlled environment to boost their population, and when the fingerlings reach a certain size, releasing them into the wild for continued growth and propagation. This technique is expected to increase aquatic resources in natural environments. Sea farming was introduced to Taiwan from Japan as early as the 1970s and since 1988 has been listed as a major subject at national research institutions.
The government had originally planned to establish three sea-farming centers, but did not push through with the plan due to problems in recruiting, funding and organizational structure. The Fisheries Agency has designated Maoao Bay (卯澳灣) in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) as the nation’s first sea-farming demonstration center.
Japan has been cultivating aquatic organisms using sea-farming techniques since the 1960s. However, from their decades-long experience, Japanese fishermen have discovered sea farming can be unhelpful to the conservation of fishery resources, as its fishery resources have continued to decline, instead of increasing as they had expected.
In the 1960s, Japan’s annual offshore fisheries output was about 2 million tonnes, but by 2011, it has shrank by almost half to 1.1 million tonnes. The reason sea farming was ineffective in enriching fishery resources had much to do with the degradation of the environment.
To address the problem, the Japanese government has been encouraging fishermen to adopt resource creation sea-farming fishery models that can more effectively increase natural resources over the traditional model of sea ranching, which prioritizes totally recapturing the fish after they are released in open waters.
Japan is also promoting a system for responsible sea farming — stock enhancement — by setting down strict guidelines for fishermen, requiring them to breed and release only fish that are local to the site, adjust the number of fish released according to its wild population in the area, and review results from fish releases and plan subsequent releases based on reviews of previous results.
Such measures can prevent fishermen from randomly releasing aquatic species seeds into the wild and are useful examples of fishery management for Taiwan.
Establishing marine protected areas has been considered the easiest, most economical and effective way to conserve fishery resources, and there has been a trend around the world to adopt this approach to preserve marine biodiversity and protect ecological systems. A total of 30,579.42 km2 of Taiwan’s waters have been designated as national marine conservation areas. However, according to reports from foreign news outlets, most marine protected areas around the world fail to offer sufficient protection to marine life, with 59 percent of the protected areas showing nearly the same ecological problems as their nearby open-fishing areas.
This means sole reliance on protected areas is insufficient to preserve marine biodiversity. We must take the task of designing such areas more seriously and ensure efficient management in the long term.
Take coral reefs for instance: Only 18 percent of the world’s coral reefs fall inside protected areas, while 1.6 percent of them are properly protected and only 0.1 percent are free from threats of poaching. A protected area can be big or small. Size does not matter.
The key to conserving fishery resources and protecting the ocean is getting local communities involved in the management of protected areas. Simply setting up protected areas is not enough; the government must work on improving them.
Gwo Jin-chywan is a professor at National Taiwan Ocean University. Lee Wu-chung is a professor of agricultural economics and a former director of the Yunlin County Department of Agriculture.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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