Japanese maritime agencies appear to be backing down from the obstruction and interdiction tactics they normally employ against Taiwanese fishermen around the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), Taiwanese fishermen and Japanese media have reported.
“The Japanese government denies any change in policy, but Taiwanese fishermen report being able to operate freely in some areas where until now, Japanese patrols would intercept them. They welcome the change as a goodwill gesture by Tokyo,” the Asahi Shimbun wrote.
Officials at the Suao Fishermen’s Association (蘇澳區漁會) in Yilan County’s Suao (蘇澳), whose members operate in the waters around the Diaoyutais — known as the Senkakus in Japan — have reported a noticeable change, the paper said.
Fishermen from Suao say it seems that Japan is softening its stance of challenging and turning back Taiwanese fishing vessels sailing close to the islands.
The officials said that in the past, Japanese patrol vessels would issue a warning to Taiwanese boats and then chase them away if they entered Japan’s contiguous zone, which extends 20 nautical miles to 24 nautical miles (37km to 44km) from land and lies well within Tokyo’s exclusive economic zone.
However, Taiwanese fishermen are now just receiving warnings, Suao fishery officials said.
“As long as we do not enter Japan’s 12-nautical mile [22.2km] territorial zone, we have been able to move and operate without any hindrance,” a Suao fisherman told reporters yesterday.
Suao Fishermen’s Association chairman Chen Chun-sheng (陳春生) said Taiwanese crew had noticed that Japanese Coast Guard vessels were “backing off” around the Diaoyutai Islands.
“Right now we are in the winter northeast monsoon season, so there are not many Taiwanese fishing boats working or sailing in the waters around the islands. Given that Japan appears to have softened its stance against Taiwanese ships, we hope our fishermen can increase the size of their catch,” association secretary-general Lin Yue-ying (林月英) said.
“However, it would be even better if both countries co-managed and shared the marine resources around the islands,” Lin added.
Suao fisherman Lin Jih-cheng (林日成) led more than 60 Taiwanese ships into waters near the Diaoyutais in September last year to protest Tokyo’s purchase of three of the chain’s islets, which he said violated the rights of Taiwanese fishermen to fish around the islands.
“Since our fishermen initiated the ‘Protect Diaoyutai Islands’ protest, Japanese Coast Guard vessels now will only deter us if our fishing boats come near the 12-nautical mile boundary around the Diaoyutai Islands,” he said.
According to the Asahi Shibum, the Japanese Fisheries Agency says that fishing by Taiwanese boats in Japan’s exclusive economic zone constitutes a violation of the law, even if the vessels remain outside Japan’s territorial waters and contiguous zone.
When asked to comment, Fisheries Agency Director Sha Chih-yi (沙志一) said his agency at this time is unable to either verify or make a judgment on the impressions of the fishermen or the media report.
Sha said that Taiwan and Japan recently held a meeting to negotiate on the fishery issue and that the date for the next session has yet to be determined.
“It is of course my agency’s aim to see bilateral negotiations progress toward results that can benefit Taiwanese fishermen,” he said.