Taiwan is at the center of the crisis facing our oceans. It has fishing boats in every ocean of the world, and it has become one of the most powerful distant-water fishing industries. Taiwan has made huge profits off the world’s fish resources, and continues to build bigger and more efficient vessels, catching and selling fish in every corner of the earth.
Taiwan’s distant-water fishing industry includes tuna, squid, and pacific saury (mackerel pike), as well as trawl fisheries. They have the largest fishing fleet in the Pacific, and an annual catch of around 520,000 tons. This is equal to a value of 40 billion New Taiwan dollars, or 90% of the total output value of its fishing industry.
In 2008 the Taiwanese fishing fleet caught 10% of the total tuna haul from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean that year, according to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
Tuna is stacked and frozen on board the Taiwanese longline fishing vessel Kai Jie 1.
Fleet Expansion and Flags of Convenience
In the past couple of decades, the number of Taiwanese tuna fishing vessels – and thus its fishing capacity – increased considerably due to the development of exploitative fisheries.
In 2005, there were approximately 2,300 Taiwanese tuna vessels operating in the distant-water fishery industry. But Taiwan was accused internationally of over-expanding the fishing capacity of its fleet. Under pressure from regional fisheries management organizations, nations, and non-governmental organizations, Taiwan cut its number of distant-water fishing vessels to 2,200 in 2009.
The Lung Yuin is a Taiwan-owned ship that flies the flag of Vanuatu and is suspected of illegal fishing.
However, government attempts to limit the size of its fishing fleet is undermined by a tricky loophole – flags of convenience (FOCs). This means that Taiwanese fishermen can register their vessels in a different country, and thus follow that country’s regulations instead of Taiwan’s.
The number of FOC vessels operated by Taiwanese fishermen has grown rapidly in recent years. Factoring in FOC ships, Taiwan’s total fishing fleet includes some 2,800 vessels in 2008. Taiwan has one of the biggest tuna fleet in the world.
Read our report: The Inconvenient Truth of Taiwan’s Flags of Convenience
Lack of management
The government has failed to effectively manage its fishing industry for several reasons, including the lack of a distant-water fishery management strategy.
It is also hampered by limited legislation, monitoring, and capacity for control and surveillance of its fleet. Taiwanese FOC ships complicate the matter, as does the lack of management of fishing vessels in international waters and in exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing
The Taiwan Fisheries Agency admitted in its Proposal for Distant-Water Fishery Management and Industrial Restructuring that “illegal over-fishing is still common in exceedingly large fleet, in addition to the illegal and overt catch of FOC vessels, the Taiwanese government has to be responsible for all the accusations.”
There are many reported cases of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing among both Taiwan and FOC flagged vessels. These fish are then transported to other ships that bring the catch back to harbor. Evidence shows again and again that the long-line fleets of Taiwan and other countries simply cannot be trusted to fish legally in international waters or in the national waters of developing coastal states with limited monitoring capacity, without onboard observers.
Greenpeace activists protest in front of Taiwan's Fisheries Agency calling for efficient monitoring of Taiwanese-owned vessels. The activists displayed a banner reading in Chinese "Too much talk, too little action" accompanied by flags of Panama and Vanuatu to point out that the FA have failed in its job to investigate the illegal ship carrier MV Lung Yuin.
Unfortunately, Taiwan has been slow to respond to calls for further cuts on its fishing capacity at the international level to ensure sustainability, or to limit the impacts of its fishing fleets and fishing techniques to other marine life. Taiwan and other Asian fishing powers are also opposed to a proposed ban on at-sea transshipments (the transfer of fish between ships), even though the ban would help to reduce illegal fishing.
Greenpeace calls for Taiwan to immediately to take action against illegal fishing, ban destructive fishing practices and support the creation of Pacific marine reserves. The long-term sustainability of Taiwan’s fishing industry and the Pacific fisheries go hand in hand – the health of the oceans is critical to our future.
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