Sat, Jun 22, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Authorities use UAV to protect urchins

‘MASSACRE’:Fishers often hide urchins in enclaves so that they can collect them when the harvest begins; one person has already been charged with harvesting them illegally

By Liu Yu-ching and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A Tripneustes gratilla, also known as a collector urchin, is cut open to show the yellow edible part in Penghu County on Tuesday. Harvesting collector urchins ahead of the annual harvest season is illegal.

Photo: Liu Yu-ching, Taipei Times

Penghu environmental officials this week filed charges against a person found illegally harvesting collector urchins before the annual harvest season.

The Penghu County Government in 2010 imposed an annual harvest period to prevent overfishing of the sea urchins, a local delicacy.

This year’s season runs from July 1 to Aug. 31, but the county’s Environmental Protection Bureau received reports earlier this month that someone was harvesting them near Baisha Township (白沙).

The bureau on Monday sent officials to investigate using an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV), it said, adding that the suspect attempted to destroy evidence on seeing the UAV approach.

Although the county’s Agriculture and Fisheries Bureau had initially published incorrect dates for the harvest period on its Web site, the public is legally obligated to follow the updated information, the Environmental Protection Bureau said.

Monday’s investigation largely focused on the intertidal zone along Penghu’s northern coast, as well as boats operating near the coast, Environmental Protection Bureau volunteer Chen Chin-chuan (陳盡川) said.

County police, who provided the drone, said that despite the suspect attempting to throw urchins back into the ocean, they had filmed sufficient evidence for the case to be sent to the local district court.

Using the UAV, authorities are able to monitor a large area, the Environmental Protection Bureau said, adding that it could monitor the islets of Siaobaisha (小白沙), Yuanbei (員貝), Niao (鳥), Jishan (雞善) and Chihkan (赤崁) simultaneously.

However, the area it needs to cover is simply too large, it said.

Some fishers hide large numbers of urchins in enclaves along the coast, and then retrieve them all on the first day of the harvest, the Environmental Protection Bureau said, adding that this has contributed to a decline in urchins in the past few years.

“Every year on the first day of harvest it is like a massacre,” it said.

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