The legislature yesterday amended the Fisheries Act (漁業法) to give fishermen the right to hire private armed guards from other countries when passing through or operating in high-risk areas threatened by piracy or illegal use of force.
Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Tsay Tzu-yaw (蔡日曜) said the amendment’s passage had several implications for Taiwan’s deep-sea fishing industry.
The Indian Ocean has been one of the nation’s most important tuna fishing grounds, as its annual bigeye tuna catch in the region is limited by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission to 35,000 tonnes, or 55 percent of the nation’s bigeye tuna catch, Tsay said.
However, amid the rising threat of piracy in the region, many Taiwanese fishermen have tried to avoid the area, even if they could not meet their quota, he said.
The number of Taiwanese large-scale tuna long liners operating in the region has fallen from 170 to 120, while small-scale tuna long liners have fallen from 430 to 300, the agency said.
Tsay said that the employment of armed guards would reduce the risk of piracy and protect ships and crews so they could fish to their full potential.
Under the amendment, the Fisheries Agency will have to give permission before boat owners can hire foreign armed guards.
The act states that such guards can only board Taiwanese ships when the vessels are anchored in a foreign harbor, they have to disembark in a foreign country and they are not allowed to enter the Republic of China.
The Fisheries Agency was asked to identify high-risk areas as defined under the amendment, as well as draw up rules for implementing the new policy, including employment plans, documents and procedures needed for permit applications and management of the use of firearms, ammunition, knives and other weapons.
The amendment was put onto the agenda of the second extra legislative session in the wake of an incident last month in which the Taiwanese captain and chief engineer of a fishing boat were allegedly thrown overboard by nine Indonesian crewmembers while working near French Polynesia.
However, the amendment would not allow ship owners to hire armed security personnel to guard their ships against their own crewmembers.
Hung Tzu-chien (洪慈綪), whose father was killed by Philippine Coast Guard personnel in an incident on May 9, said she did not think the new policy was realistic.
It would be better for government vessels to routinely guard fishing boats, she said.
“The cost of hiring private guards is enormous. Many fishermen cannot afford it. Rising fuel costs and declining catches further complicate the problem. Fishermen live hard lives. How can they afford to hire private guards?” she said.
Liouciou Fishermen’s Association chief executive Tsai Pao-hsing (蔡寶興) said the legislation could “cause casualties” because it would encourage fishermen to fish in dangerous areas and turn fishing boats into battlegrounds.
Additional reporting by CNA