Fishing to be key in Japan talks: officials

PLENTY OF FISH::A fishermen’s group said that Taiwanese boats could pull in up to NT$2bn more if allowed to operate in the waters around the disputed Diaoyutai Islands

By Fan Cheng-hsiang and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 - Page 3

Taiwan’s general obejective during the 17th round of fisheries talks with Japan will be to guarantee a safe, stable fishing area for Taiwanese fishermen operating within the temporary enforcement line of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Executive Yuan said.

The Executive Yuan made the remark in response to a written interpellation tendered by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) on Friday inquiring about the government’s possible negotiation tactics to protect the rights of Taiwanese fishermen at the talks.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is engaging in preparatory communications with its Japanese counterpart regarding the time, location and agenda of the 17th round of Taiwan-Japan fisheries talks, during which the government is to seek to ensure a safe space for Taiwanese fishing boats to operate within the country’s temporary enforcement line,” the Executive Yuan said.

In the meantime, the Fisheries Agency will compile a list of topics to be covered at the talks and draw up relevant countermeasures, the Executive Yuan added.

The government established the temporary enforcement line, which covers the contested Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), in 2003 to provide a safe fishing area for its fishermen, while Japan also delimited a “middle line” in the overlapping maritime area of the Diaoyutais, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

The delimitation of both countries has yet to be accepted by the opposing side.

“Safeguarding the rights of the country’s fishermen is the top priority of the Council of Agriculture and the government should be well-prepared and make detailed plans in advance [of the fisheries talks] to achieve that goal,” Huang said in the written interpellation, urging the council to also devise a set of effective strategies toward this end.

Citing calculations by the Yilan-based Suao Fishermen’s Association, Huang said the association’s annual output value could increase from one-third to two-thirds, or between NT$1 billion (US$34.3 million) and NT$2 billion, if Taiwanese fishermen were allowed to operate in waters near the Diaoyutais.

Given the rich fishery resources in waters around the chain, Taiwanese fishermen could enjoy a descent haul even if they are only allowed to operate outside Japan’s claimed territorial waters, Huang said.

She added that the Yilan County’s Nanfangao (南方澳) has more than 400 fishing vessels weighing 20 tonnes or more that are capable of operating around the archipelago.

For the past decade, Japan has made areas within its 12 nautical mile (22.2km) zone off-limits to fishing boats from Taiwan and China, Huang said.

“In the initial stage, the situation was calm because Japan did not forcibly expel fishing boats that entered its restricted areas. However, things changed about six or seven years ago, when Japanese Coast Guard vessels began chasing away foreign boats, and occasionally detaining the captains and crew of the ships,” she said.

Huang said Taiwanese fishermen were particularly concerned after Japan nationalized three of the islets in the chain in September because they feared Tokyo would redefine waters within 200 nautical miles (370.5km) off the islets as its EEZ.

“If so, none of Taiwan’s ships would be able to leave the country’s harbors,” Huang added.

Reiterating the country’s stance on the issues of territorial disputes, the Executive Yuan also said in its response to the written interpellation that waters near the Diaoyutai Islands have been Taiwan’s traditional fishing grounds for more than 100 years.

“The government tolerates no infringement on Taiwanese fishermen’s justifiable rights to operate within Taiwanese territory and will provide them with continued protection,” the Executive Yuan said.

The Fisheries Agency will adhere to its policy of “safeguarding every Taiwanese fisherman operating legally” and dispatch at least one patrol vessel a day to ensure the safety of the nation’s fishing boats, it said.