Conservation, not confrontations

By Du Yu 杜宇  / 

Fri, May 24, 2013 - Page 8

Seven years ago, the captain of the Taiwanese fishing boat Man Chun Yi was killed, other crewmembers injured and the ship damaged. Then earlier this month, a crewmember on another Taiwanese fishing boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, was killed after the boat was sprayed with bullets by Philippine Coast Guard personnel.

The Philippine government’s cold-blooded killing of Taiwanese fishermen is very disturbing. The Philippine government has not shown Taiwan any respect and this has incensed Taiwanese, with calls coming from all around the nation for the Manila to make amends. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has demanded an official apology and called for an investigation as well as compensation and a guarantee that similar incidents never happen again. Ma has said that if this is not done, he does not exclude the use of any kind of sanctions and he will not stop until something is done about it.

Whether the government can seek justice for the family of the deceased while also securing safety guarantees for Taiwanese fishermen operating in these areas are issues that Taiwanese and foreign observers are paying close attention to.

Ma should immediately send ships to the southern exclusive economic zone and use military force to protect our fishermen and show that he has the determination to protect the safety of Taiwanese if he wants to avoid becoming a lame-duck president.

The Philippines and Taiwan have overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs), but the Taiwanese government has never come up with a way to resolve this issue, with the result that Taiwanese fishermen have to worry about being harassed when fishing in these waters.

Over the past 13 years, there have been 31 reported cases of the Philippine Coast Guard harassing Taiwanese fishing vessels, the majority of which were resolved by paying under-the-table “fines.” Taiwanese authorities have yet to engage with the Philippine government over the problem or increase sea patrols to stop Taiwanese fishermen from being harassed.

The government has instead demanded that Taiwanese fishermen do their best to stay away from these waters. It is obvious that officials have been negligent in their duties. This negligence has meant that our fishermen never know what may be in store for them each time they go out to sea, and it is safe to say that there is nobody more capable of deeply feeling the tragedy of being Taiwanese than fishermen and their families.

Taiwanese fishermen have their own reasons for risking their lives by fishing in dangerous areas. Fishing resources are almost depleted near Taiwan and fishermen are having a hard time finding more valuable catches. Increases in the costs of fuel and electricity, rising salaries for fishermen and an increase in fishing access fees, coupled with the fact that the Philippine waters are important grounds for bluefin tuna, all mean that despite the bad reputation the Philippines has for pirates and their military, Taiwanese fishermen have no choice but to take a gamble to make better catches.

Once all of the excitement surrounding the latest killing dies down, our fishermen will still face the threat of being gunned down. Is there really no hope for change? Given Taiwan’s weak international status, it is impractical to advocate going to other countries and loudly proclaiming our fishing rights. We can also forget about China helping us.

As the environment of the international fishing industry changes and the overall area of open waters shrink, the heart of the fishing industry will move away from the far seas and move closer to shore.

The government should adjust its development strategies for the fishing industry according to these changes and be more proactive when it comes to conserving Taiwan’s coastal fishing resources. This would allow Taiwanese fishermen to fish without worry in their own waters.

Unfortunately, over the last decade, overfishing, excessive competition between fishermen and coastal areas being polluted by industrial wastewater and household waste have turned Taiwan into an island with almost no fish. Most of the so-called “fresh fish” sold at its fishing ports have been imported.

The government must thoroughly review its policies for the fishing industry and bring in fishing communities to join fishing resource conservation work as this would help increase the fishing resources along the coasts.

The Japanese government has clear rules regulating the management of aquatic resources, stating that those working in the fishing industry should always play the lead role in managing and protecting these resources and work hard to place ocean protection ahead of development. Japan has had great success on this front.

Taiwan’s protection and management systems for aquatic resources are mainly based on the government doing these things. Because laws and systems pertaining to the fishing industry are not complete, Taiwan has had limited success conserving fishing resources. Fishing administrative bodies should push for the management of resources and those working in the industry should establish their own organizations for managing the industry. These organizations should devise and implement resource management measures to help create a stable fishing industry, avoiding cut-throat competition and create a sustainable industry.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives countries next to oceans the right to explore, develop, conserve and manage natural resources within their own EEZs as well as jurisdiction over a series of special matters such as managing marine research and preventing maritime pollution. Because the seas are related to huge strategic and economic interests such as subsea oil, gas, fishing, mineral and biological resources, they inevitably become the focus of international disputes.

At present, besides the Philippines and Taiwan’s overlapping EEZs, there are more than 100 maritime regions with disputed borders that need to be negotiated. Since Taiwan has already been pulled into the struggle for maritime territory and resources, it needs to be ready, because shouting empty slogans is useless. The only way to stop war is to show we are not afraid of it.

Although this issue will eventually come to some sort of a conclusion, the Ma administration’s biggest challenge is ensuring the safety of Taiwanese fishermen.

Du Yu is a member of the Chen-Li task force for Agricultural Reform.

Translated by Drew Cameron