Sat, Nov 09, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Help rid the ocean of its ghosts

The waters that surround Taiwan and the nation’s role in the world’s oceans have been the focus of top-level attention this year, as the government has endeavored for the EU to lift its yellow card on the deep-waters fishery industry and to win passage of the Ocean Basic Act (海洋基本法).

The EU on June 27 removed Taiwan from its list of uncooperative nations in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, while the Legislative Yuan passed the act on Friday last week.

The act is intended to ensure Taiwan sustainably uses the sea and its resources, and facilitates collaboration on international marine affairs by educating the public about the oceans, building a high value-added marine industry, promoting environmental friendly measures and engaging in international maritime exchanges.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and other officials this week talked up marine education, recreation and protection. Tsai spoke about encouraging the public to learn more about the oceans and develop an interest in fishing, while Su said that Taiwan as an ocean nation needs to pay tribute to the sea.

Even before the act was passed, the Executive Yuan was planning a more vigorous approach in cleaning the nation’s coastline by charging eight agencies overseen by the Environmental Protection Administration with removing garbage, discarded fishing gear and driftwood.

However, as with much of the nation’s legislation, the devil is in the details, and when it comes to the Ocean Basic Act, much remains unknown.

Under the act, the Executive Yuan must produce a white paper setting out the government’s approach to ocean affairs within a year and establish a marine development fund.

If the government is serious about protecting the world’s oceans, and not just with promoting recreational fishing and the deep-waters fishing industry, it should review the report issued on Thursday by Greenpeace International, titled Ghost Gear: The Abandoned Fishing Nets Haunting Our Oceans.

Citing a 2009 UN Food and Agricultural Organization report and a 2014 study published on PLOS One, Greenpeace said an estimated 640,000 tonnes of fishing industry gear is lost or abandoned in the oceans annually, including nets, packing containers and buoys, accounting for 10 percent of the plastic waste in the oceans. By weight alone, as much as 70 percent of the microplastics on the surface of the oceans comes from fishing activities, with more than half from discarded buoys, it added.

Not only is ghost gear deadly to marine life, it is a hazard to ship navigation, the report said. Greenpeace is urging governments to take three actions: agreeing by next spring on a “Global Ocean Treaty” to provide protection for marine life in international waters; adopting the solutions and best-practice protocols suggested by the Global Ghost Gear Initiative; and taking steps to address marine pollution through regional and international organizations.

As Taiwan is not a UN member, it cannot sign the proposed Global Ocean Treaty, but it certainly can follow through on the second and third recommendations.

Taiwan operates one of the world’s largest fleets of deep-sea fishing vessels, if not the largest. It is a major player in the global seafood industry and a member of several regional fisheries management organizations.

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