The number of bluefin tuna caught off the coast of Pingtung County this year reached a total of 642 as of Thursday, an increase of 200 from the same period last year, as a result of the signing of a fisheries agreement with Japan in April as well as the government’s intensified efforts to protect Taiwanese fishermen, Pingtung residents said.
The nation’s fishermen caught their first bluefin tuna of the year on April 18, ahead of the opening of the annual Pingtung Bluefin Tuna Cultural Festival in May, the Donggang Fishermen’s Association said.
More catches are expected this month, as last year the final bluefin tuna of the season was caught on July 24, taking that year’s total catch to 505, association chief executive Lin Han-chou (林漢丑) said.
Lin attributed the increase in tuna catch to patrol boats sent to safeguard Taiwanese fishermen after an incident on May 9 in which a 65-year-old fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), was shot dead by Philippine Coast Guard personnel while working on a boat operating in the two countries’ overlapping economic zones.
The Taiwanese patrol boats have made fishermen feel safer on the water, Lin said.
The agreement with Japan, which gives Taiwan access to an additional 4,530km2 of fishing grounds, has also helped increase the catch, he added.
Bluefin tuna can fetch about NT$600 per kilogram, Lin said.
In other news, a shipment of bananas grown in Pingtung County, weighing 6.6 tonnes, was dispatched to Singapore for the first time on Friday, a move farmers hope will help them diversify their export markets for the fruit.
The vast majority of the nation’s bananas are exported to Japan, but volumes have fallen dramatically over the past decade because of strong competition from the Philippines.
According to Bureau of Foreign Trade statistics, banana exports to Japan have decreased from 42,600 tonnes in 2000, to 19,100 tonnes in 2007 to 8,530 tonnes last year.
Taiwan had hoped China could become a good secondary export market, but that idea has waned as exports fell to 629.7 tonnes last year after reaching 1,734 tonnes in 2011, statistics show.
“Most of the bananas sold in Singapore come from Malaysia and the Philippines and do not taste as good as those from Taiwan,” said Lee Jui-chun (李瑞春), manager of a company that exports fruits and vegetables to Malaysia and Singapore.
The Singapore-bound bananas are expected to be unveiled in the city state at a Taiwanese fruit and vegetable festival to be held on July 11.