Greenpeace East Asia oceans campaigner YuFen Kao
I began working for Greenpeace East Asia nearly two years ago, because I always wanted to work on environmental issues and to focus on increasing attention on global issues here in Taiwan. Since I’ve joined Greenpeace, I’ve been focused on changing minds and oceans policy here in Taiwan, home to one our newest offices and to one of the world’s largest fishing powers. Taiwan has the largest number of vessel operating in Pacific Ocean, where 60% of the world’s tuna comes from.
To tell you the truth, it has been a whirlwind few months; I’ve met with industry officials, briefed academics, explained the oceans crisis to journalists and taken part in peaceful protests onboard the Rainbow Warrior. Make no mistake: I am an activist, committed to the ideals of Greenpeace and I know that working for a green and peaceful future entails risks. However, I never thought that I would find myself in court over telling the truth about the urgent crisis facing our oceans, but I am happy to tell you that my legal battle is over- today I was found not guilty of defamation by a Taiwanese court.
A little over a year ago, I was part of a peaceful direct action here in Taiwan against a fish carrier ship called the Lung Yuin. The ship was emblematic of Taiwan’s failure to regulate fishing vessels operating under foreign flags while owned by Taiwanese entities. The Lung Yuin had a record of dodgy registration and questionable at-sea activities, precisely these sorts of things that are helping large-scale industrial fishing ships take too many fish from our oceans: pushing fish populations to the brink of collapse. Overfishing in the Pacific is a huge problem, and Taiwan can and should be working toward solutions. That is why Greenpeace took action, and why Taiwan needs to become a champion of responsible fishing instead of a safe haven for irresponsible ships. I was onboard the Rainbow Warrior during the direct action, and made statements questioning the Taiwanese Fishery Agency’s enforcement of its law requiring all fishing and support vessels sailing under flags other than Taiwan’s - but owned by Taiwan people or companies registered with the Agency.
This law is an important control over a sector of Taiwan’s fishing industry well-known for ignoring fisheries regulations. I told people and the media during and after the action that Taiwan’s government seems to have no intention to enforce and regulate the industry; it was clearly turning a blind eye to the Lung Yuin, unregistered and sitting in port in Kaohsiung. Instead of examining what they’re doing and showing willingness to become a responsible fishing power respectful of laws and regulations that are supposed to keep our oceans full of fish and maintain fishing jobs for future generations, the Taiwanese fishing industry forced me into court and tried to silence me. The company who owned the Lung Yuin, Chang Soon, accused me of damaging their reputation- simply by urging the Taiwanese government to investigate whether they were in compliance with a legal requirement.
Today is a victory both for me personally, and for Taiwanese society, and gives me hope for our oceans too. Greenpeace’s work (and mine) to save our oceans will continue. The work carries on because in a few short weeks, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission will meet in Guam to decide the future of our Pacific and its valuable tuna resources. Key protections in place for three years in the key tuna-rich areas of the Pacific will need to be strengthened if we are to avoid the collapse of fish populations. The very future of the Pacific region is at stake here: our Pacific and the fish in them provide food and jobs- the most basic of human needs. The crisis facing our oceans is more urgent and dire as ever: this is the year we need oceans protection of the Pacific Commons areas made permanent.
So, watch this space, I’ll be telling you more about the next steps for our campaign in Taiwan and what we’re doing at the Pacific Tuna Commission meeting in Guam.
YuFen Kao is an oceans campaigner based in Greenpeace East Asia’s Taipei office.