It has been three years this week since the EU put Taiwan on its “yellow card” warning list for not doing enough to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, a complaint that also encompasses the abuse of migrant workers on deep-sea fishing vessels.
Every six months since, the EU has sent inspectors to see if the government has addressed the failures that landed Taiwan on the list: not properly monitoring fisheries, weak sanctions and a lack of compliance to obligations imposed on regional management organizations.
Just as regularly, ministers and Fisheries Agency officials have voiced optimism that the yellow card would be lifted. They have been wrong five times so far, although European Economic and Trade Office Director Madeleine Majorenko said in May that the “to do” list has become substantially shorter.
The key was Taiwan’s ability to show that it is actually enforcing the rules, she said.
Perhaps that is why the Fisheries Agency on Thursday held a news conference to announce that it had fined the owner and captain of the Chin Chang No. 6 NT$9.5 million and NT$1.9 million (US$308,042 and US$61,608) respectively, and suspended their fishing licenses for six months for contravening the Act Governing Distant Water Fisheries (遠洋漁業條例) after more than 30 tonnes of endangered shark species were found upon the ship’s return to Kaohsiung on Sept. 13.
The agency said the boat had been monitored because the Fisheries Monitoring Center had detected suspicious activities and had received a tip that the vessel was involved in illegal fishing.
Meanwhile, Deep Seas Fisheries Division Deputy Director Wang Mao-chen (王茂城) announced that the owner of the Fuh Sheng No. 11 had been fined, the boat’s license had been provisionally revoked and prosecutors had been notified after foreign crew members complained of abuse and poor pay.
However, allegations that the ship had been illegally fishing for protected shark species were dismissed because no sharks were found when the boat returned to Kaohsiung on Sept. 13, he said.
Wang made it sound as if the agency is working hard to uphold the law, but in July it dismissed similar complaints after the International Labour Organization announced the boat had been detained for several weeks in South Africa, because crew members had said that their working conditions were in violation of the convention.
The agency at the time said that the boat had only been held because it was listing and its rescue equipment did not meet requirements.
It was not until the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation early last month renewed the allegations of labor abuse and illegal fishing that the agency interviewed the crew after the ship returned home.
While Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Agency officials have held up the investigations into the two boats and the subsequent penalties as proof of the government’s determination to eliminate illegal fishing and labor abuses, they actually highlight one of the reasons Taiwan has found it so difficult to convince the EU to lift its yellow card: The agency is not being proactive enough. Waiting until boats suspected of illegal fishing return home to inspect their holds, question crew and destroy illegal catches does not effectively combat illegal fishing or protect the sustainable use of fisheries resources.
The fish caught illegally are still just as dead. Waiting five months to question foreign crew members complaining about abuse and poor pay, especially after another government has taken the extreme step of detaining a vessel because of such complaints, demonstrates a disturbing complacency and disinterest in the welfare of migrant workers.
While many in the government and industry are hoping next week’s EU visit will bring some good news, it appears that the Fisheries Agency is leaving Taiwan dangling on a hook.
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