Neither Taiwan nor the Philippines have been willing to compromise over their overlapping demands for their respective special economic zones in the South China Sea. The result has been that the Philippines’ coast guard has been increasing its patrols in the overlapping areas in recent years.
It is well known that they confiscate Taiwanese fishing boats and arrest their crewmembers if they enter the area, and only release them upon the payment of very large fines. Over the past 13 years, there have been 31 reported cases of Philippine government vessels harassing Taiwanese fishing boats.
Nine of those incident have developed into major clashes and caused two deaths and one severe injury, and more than 30 Taiwanese crewmembers have been detained by Philippine authorities for between two months and one-and-a-half years.
Taiwanese authorities have not been able to come up with an effective solution to this issue, and they are instead demanding that fishermen do their best to avoid the disputed areas. No one understands the tragedy of the situation better than Taiwanese fishermen and their families, and it is a long time since they were happy to set out to sea.
Taiwanese fishermen risk their lives entering the disputed areas because Taiwan’s coastal and offshore fishing grounds are becoming depleted, making it difficult for fishermen to catch the kinds of fish that provide high economic returns. This, in combination with the increased fuel and electricity prices, fishermen’s wages and fishing access fees, has forced Taiwanese fishermen to move into areas closer to the territorial waters of other countries to be able to make ends meet.
If the government really is unable to protect fishermen, it should work to restore fishery resources in Taiwan’s coastal waters so our fishermen can go safely about their business in Taiwanese waters.
Apart from encouraging fishermen to suspend their fishing activities and take up other professions in an attempt to streamline the fishing industry, the government should also determine periods when fishing should be suspended, create protected fishing areas and set specifications for fishing nets and other fishing tools so the fishery resources that are still restorable are allowed a period during which they can be rehabilitated.
The government should also create artificial reefs, release bred fry in the sea and establish sea farms in order to increase fishing resources in coastal and offshore waters.
The Japanese government has issued clear regulations stating that producers in the fishing industry always must be the main target during the process of implementing the protection and management of aquatic resources, and that marine protection must be given priority over development and utilization.
The results of these regulations have been outstanding.
Taiwan’s system for protecting and managing aquatic resources mainly relies on government departments for management. Because the laws and systems regulating the fishing industry are not complete, the government has not been very effective when it comes to restoring aquatic resources.
The government must actively push for adequate resource management within the fishing industry that allows industry participants themselves set up organizations to manage their industry so that they can rely on resource management measures introduced by these organizations to implement resource management and a stable and smoothly operating fishing industry.
Lee Wu-chung is a professor of agricultural economics.
Translated by Perry Svensson