Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Fishing's dark underbelly

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

That the ICCAT implements such measures is an indication of how the international community views Taiwan's fishing fleet: In the eyes of many, Taiwanese fishermen are stripmining the oceans of their fishery resources.

However, according to Ho, Taiwan's reputation among fishing nations is undeserved. Ho attributes what he refers to as the Taiwanese fishing fleet's bum rap to the country's lack of diplomatic recognition worldwide, which prevents it from joining most global fishery organizations as a full-fledged member. Getting locked out of such rulemaking bodies makes Taiwan a convenient scapegoat for countries like Japan, said Ho. "Japan took advantage of our weak situation," Ho told the Taipei Times. Japan proposed the quotas to corner the tuna market and stem cheap tuna imports from Taiwan, which were driving tuna prices down in Japan, Ho said, adding that Japan is itself embroiled in fishing disputes and controversy. "If we were a member [of international fishery organizations], things would be different," Ho said. "In such organizations, what can a non-member nation like Taiwan do when members draw up regulations that penalize you?"

Despite what Ho refers to as unfair treatment by global fishery authorities, Taiwan's government and tuna fisheries industry are financing a "drastic" fishing vessel buy-back program to the tune of NT$6.6 billion (US$200 million) to appease the international community.

With regard to the bluefin, Ho said that the tonnage of annual northern bluefin tuna catches for Taiwan and Japan is decreasing, but refused to concede that this is because the bluefin is nearing extinction. "Numbers are declining for many fish species, but whether that's due [solely or mostly] to fishing has yet to be proven," Ho said. The OFDC president also took issue with the Nature article that claims that 90 percent of the oceans' "big" fish are gone. "That article is very controversial, and a lot of scientists have come out against the research presented in it," Ho said, adding that although he thinks overfishing is a problem globally, "Taiwan [itself] doesn't pose a problem."

Tsay Tzu-yaw (蔡日耀), director of the Deep Seas Fisheries Division of the Fisheries Agency (FA, 漁業署遠洋組) under the Council of Agriculture (COA, 農業委員會) pointed out that the Australian government-funded report disregards the fact that the FA has urged 48 large-scale Taiwanese-owned FOC fishing vessels to discard their foreign flags and fly the Taiwanese flag since 2000. Meanwhile, the government has implemented a number of stringent measures to crack down on IUU fishing activities. A US$200 million program to buy back large-scale tuna vessels to shrink the fleet is the latest effort in a series of vessel reduction programs since 1991, Tsay said. Additionally, measures that include putting scientific observers on large-scale tuna boats and keeping an eye on the fleet via tracking technology are helping the government keep its fishermen in line.

"Taiwan is determined to be a responsible fishing state, and we are confident that our tuna longline vessels' catches are commensurate with the catch quotas allocated by regional fisheries management organizations," Tsay said. Indeed, recent FA measures to downsize the fleet and keep fishing activities legitimate suggest that Tsay is not merely paying lip service; Taiwan appears to genuinely want to be a "responsible stakeholder" in the international fishing community.

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