The Fisheries Agency is smelling a bit, well, fishy these days. Its lackluster reaction to repeated allegations — and proven cases — of shark finning in recent months are not only proving a major embarrassment, but have put Taiwanese fisheries exports to the EU at risk.
On Sept. 10 last year the agency was embarrassed by a Greenpeace announcement that a Taiwanese boat was found near Papua New Guinea with 75kg of shark fins and a dodgy catch logbook. Agency officials blustered about the environmental group’s breach of international law, but vowed to investigate the allegations of illegal finning.
On Oct. 1 last year, the European Commission issued a “yellow card” to Taiwan, giving it six months to resolve several issues: major shortcomings in its fisheries legal framework; inadequate sanctions that do not deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; a lack of effective monitoring and control of Taiwan’s long-distance fleet; and a failure to comply with regional fisheries management organizations’ obligations. It warned that Taiwanese aquatic exports were at risk of being banned from EU markets.
The agency said that the commission’s decision “was beyond understanding,” but it vowed to work to resolve the problems.
A few days later the agency had to admit that its inspectors had boarded the ship Greenpeace had named and found a discrepancy between the ship’s catch and its log records, as well as 125 shark fins and five shark carcasses. It later suspended the boat’s license for two months for logbook discrepancies, three months for shark finning and another three months for taking a prohibited species, and fined the crew NT$150,000, the maximum allowed by law.
In early December last year, the agency was embarrassed yet again when Greenpeace reported that another Taiwanese vessel had been caught fishing illegally in Palau’s shark sanctuary.
Agency Director-General Sha Chih-yi (沙志一) said that his office was awaiting official reports from Palau, but the boat and crew would face punishment if the allegations were confirmed.
Then on Feb. 3 scores of frozen shark carcasses with their fins removed were discovered under a bridge in Hsinchu.
On Feb. 18, the agency called the incident “an isolated case,” saying that it was far-fetched to link it with illegal fishing and that the carcasses had probably been discarded by food processors, because the meat was no longer fresh.
On Thursday, Greenpeace Taiwan filleted the agency and served it up to the media.
A year-long probe of Taiwan’s tuna fishing sector and a secret investigation of Yilan and Pingtung county ports showed an industry that was “out of control,” with rampant shark finning and labor and human rights abuses, the group said.
It said it had uncovered 16 cases of shark finning in just one local port between August and October last year, compared with the 18 cases confirmed by the agency and the Coast Guard Administration for all of last year — highlighting the agency’s inability to monitor the industry.
The agency responded by saying that is has more than 100 officers who conduct random port inspections and that it would not tolerate illegal activities.
Taiwan in 2012 became the first Asian nation to ban shark finning, but the past few months have shown that the law — and the Fisheries Agency — lack the teeth needed to really eliminate the practice.
The Fisheries Agency claims that shark conservation and sustainable fishing are at the core of its mission. It is time that it lived up to its goals.
However, the Legislative Yuan must do its part as well, by passing amendments to Fisheries Act (漁業法) to raise the fines for illegal fishing and by ensuring that the agency has the finances and the personnel to effectively monitor the industry.
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