Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Fishing's dark underbelly

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

So pressing is the overfishing problem -- especially with regard to the bluefin -- that the World Trade Organization (WTO) is taking steps to address it by holding negotiations on national fishery subsidies, which are believed to encourage overfishing.

"The WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations are particularly significant because it is the first time that conservation considerations have led to the launch of a trade negotiation. That is, world trade ministers, recognizing the problem of global overfishing, [have] committed to discuss[ing] trade rules regarding fisheries subsidies [since 2001] as a way to help address this issue," Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless told the Taipei Times.

With one of the biggest fishing fleets in the world, Taiwan has been harshly penalized with fishing quotas and other restrictions by international fishery organizations. These measures have been justified by Taiwan's reputation for poaching and otherwise breaking the rules.

An Australian government-funded report obtained by the Taipei Times from TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade monitoring organization, probes Taiwan's Flag of Convenience (FOC) fishing industry. The 2005 report, entitled The Changing Nature of High Seas Fishing: how flags of convenience provide cover for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, singles out Taiwan in many instances as a major violator of international deep-sea fishing regulations. According to the report, the vast majority of large-scale fishing vessels built in Taiwan and operated by Taiwanese businesses from 2001 to 2003 operated under other countries' flags; many fishing vessels of Taiwanese origin were even listed as "flag unknown." While flying an FOC in itself is not illegal, it does provide ideal cover for "illegal, unreported and unregulated" (IUU) fishing activities, which the report describes as a US$1.2 billion a year industry. "The FOC system serves as a very inexpensive and often deliberate means for vessels ... to evade the rules and make enormous profits," the report states. The profitability of IUU fishing may explain why Taiwan is home to the largest number of companies that own or operate large-scale fishing vessels that are flagged to other countries. The Kaohsiung-based Lien Cherng Shipbuilding Co Ltd (聯成造船股份有限公司), for example, is cited in the report for churning out FOC fishing vessels that are suspected internationally of engaging in IUU fishing activities.

As penance for what conservationists and international fishery authorities say are Taiwan's sins on the high seas, the country submitted to a drastic Atlantic big-eye tuna quota slash imposed by the International Commission on Conserving Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) last year. The commission said Taiwan violated international tuna conservation regulations by overfishing big-eye tuna in the Atlantic and "fish laundering." The commission passed Japan's proposal to cut Taiwan's allowable catch of big-eye tuna by a staggering 70 percent, leading to huge revenue losses, but stopped short of implementing Japan's request to slap a zero quota on Taiwan for other kinds of tuna.

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