Thu, Aug 02, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Fishermen promised fuel relief

RISING COSTS While a top Council of Agriculture official said the government would increase its fuel subsidy, it was unlikely to offer as much as legislators have demanded

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government will increase the diesel oil subsidy for fishing vessels this month to reduce the impact of rising oil prices on fishermen, Council of Agriculture Deputy Chairman Lee Jen-chyuan (李健全) said yesterday.

He made the pledge to hundreds of fishermen from around the country who attended a public hearing at the legislature.

Lee, however, didn't agree to raise the subsidy from the current 6 percent of the market price for diesel oil -- about NT$1,662 per kiloliter -- to 14 percent -- or NT$2,715 per kiloliter -- as lawmakers across party lines have urged.

"The council is unable to get extra money from the Cabinet for the subsidy. We can only try to appropriate funds from our given budget, but I am serious about the promise and will come up with an acceptable amount," Lee said.

Despite Lee's promise, lawmakers at the hearing agreed to demand the government raise the long-term subsidy back to 14 percent.

When the subsidy rate was reduced from 14 percent to 6 percent in March 2005 the price of diesel oil was NT$10,465, but now the price has increased to between NT$17,500 and NT$18,000, said Chen Chien-chun (陳建忠), president of a fishermen's association.

"The cost of diesel oil used to account for 25 percent of a fisherman's costs, but the recent hike in oil prices has pushed it to between 70 percent and 75 percent, seriously affecting fishermen's lives," said Ilan County Councilor Lin Chi-shan (林棋山), a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) member.

At the hearing, fishermen requested that Chinese fishermen working in the fishing industry be allowed to do fisheries-related jobs on land such as transporting ice blocks and repairing fishing nets.

Present regulations stipulate that Chinese fishermen can only work on boats and are not allowed to enter the country. Employers who violate the rules risk being fined as much as NT$30,000.

Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) told the hearing that the regulations ensured "national security" because Chinese fishermen might abscond if allowed to work onshore.

Chen Chien-chun countered that argument by saying that there was more to a fisherman's job than just fishing from boats: "There is a lot of stuff that needs to be done aside from catching fish."

The fishermen suggested that the government set up an "offshore area" ashore near fishing ports where Chinese fishermen could work without technically entering the country.

Chen Ming-ting agreed to consider the suggestion. He said the MAC would come up with measures within two months to allow Chinese fishermen to work "offshore" as long as their employers submit depositions that they know the whereabouts of their employees before the new worksites are established.

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