Fishermen from southern Taiwan marched northbound to petition their cases. The Council of Agriculture (COA) stated that the petition has been dully responded within the legal and reasonable framework. In regards to fishing rights, the government is still relentlessly negotiating through international negotiations. As for the issues of foreign labor recruitment, penal fines, and law amendment request, the COA pointed out that the three Distant Water Fisheries Laws were passed by the Legislative Yuan aiming to make Taiwan a law-abiding member of the international community, and their strict implementation is based on national interest. As a matter of fact, numbers show that there are only just a few individual cases of penalization since the entire fishing industry is in fact willing to conform to international norms.
Nevertheless, the COA expresses its disapproval of the actions by some political candidates mingled in the crowd, who chanted political slogans and erected political banners at the demonstration. The COA condemns such political election propagandas hiding behind righteous social events at the expense of the fishermen. The COA vows to actively continue the dialogue with fishery associations in order to achieve sustainable development for Taiwan’s fishing industry.
The COA further explained that fishery petition groups arrived at the Legislative Yuan to plead for their demands, including more compassion, more communication, and more guidance on the enforcement of three Distant Water Fisheries Laws, the exclusion of fishing industry in Labor Standards Act, and loosen restriction on the 6-month period employment ban of runaway foreign deckhands, among others. A consensus was reached between fishermen representatives Wang Hsin-chan, Lin Chi-shan, Tsai Pao-hsing, Lin Chi-tsang and COA’s Fisheries Agency Director-General Huang Hong-Yen, who promised to complete the amendment before year’s end on extending approval period of foreign deckhand’s no-criminal record cancelation to 30 days, as well as reducing runaway foreign deckhand re-employment ban period to 3 months. Local governments and fishery associations would be notified of the abovementioned decisions within a month. As for the demands that cannot be responded right away, the COA agrees to hold negotiation meetings in Dongang, Liu-chiu, Su-ao and other ports within a month’s time.
Protect fishing rights and the interests of our fishermen
The COA stated that regarding the much-concerned issue of maritime operational boundaries in the peripheral area around Okinotorishima, as well as the problem of overlapping fishing zone south of Yaeyama Islands between Taiwan and Japan, have already been addressed following the establishment of Taiwan-Japan Marine Affairs Cooperation Dialogue Mechanism in 2016, which hold annual meetings to solve fishery disputes between the two countries. The government continues to negotiate with Japan under this mechanism, and before an operational agreement is established, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration would continue to protect the fishing rights of our vessels according to the Western Central Pacific Ocean Patrol Program.
Moreover, the surrounding areas around Taiping Island in the South China Sea has always been a traditional fishing ground for Taiwan. Since Taiwan’s administrative jurisdiction on the South China Sea Islands is guaranteed by international laws and Law of the Sea, the government would strive to ensure the rights and safety of our vessels operating in the area.
Reasonable demands have been accepted for consideration, while those involving international fishery regulations would continue to be counseled for observance.
The COA further stated that Taiwan is one of the major international waters fishing countries in the world, and in order to ensure that our distant water fishery meet the international or market country’s demand by combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing with the international community, the COA had engaged in multiple talks and negotiations with industrial sectors since 2015 and finally reached the consensus to pass the Distant Water Fisheries Act into law. After relevant regulations and subsidiary articles were formed, the government continued to review the said regulations according to the needs of the industry and international trend. Under the general principle of the Distant Water Fisheries Act, subsidiary regulations are adjusted to fishermen’s requests. For example, for the recruitment of foreign deckhands by distant water vessels abroad, exclusive payment standard has been set, foreign deckhand hiring procedure has been simplified, some vessels are now allowed to alter designated fishery operational group, and the recruitment waiting period due to runaway deckhands is now shortened. All of the changes and modifications are done by taking into consideration the unique characteristics and special necessities of the fishing industry.
In addition, fishermen groups demand that fishery labor should be excluded from the Labor Standards Act and be regulated by an exclusive fishery law. The COA has already advised the Ministry of Labor to list fishery as special employment in the Article 84.1 of Labor Standards Act. Further negotiations with the Ministry of Labor will follow shortly. The Fisheries Agency has requested fishermen’s associations to submit information on different labor hours for reference, and would subsequently form a task force to work on appropriate regulations that applies to fishery labor.
Regarding the fishermen’s protest about costly fines, the Distant Water Fisheries Act clearly rules that in order to deter major violations such as IUU from happening, it is deemed necessary to set higher fines. As for the rest of the distant water fishery related operational violations are regarded as ordinary infractions and are only fined moderately. The said costly fines are in fact not more expensive compared to their Korean or Filipino counterparts. Furthermore, the passing of the act into law confirms the commitment of Taiwan in combating IUU alongside international partners and therefore, amendment to the act is not a feasible option. Nevertheless, before the said act passed into law, the COA had organized many seminars and events to promote and explain the objective of the act to fishery business owners. It also encouraged fishermen to follow relevant operational regulations by giving “preventive reminders” with the help of 24-hour fishery monitoring centers. As a result, of nearly 1200 distant water operation vessels in the country, just 8% of them have been penalized for violations, which constitutes a small percentage. This shows that the majority of the fishing industry is supportive of the cause and cooperates with international regulations.
Furthermore, even though the demonstration organizers guaranteed the non-political nature of the event, there were still political candidates who donned election vests marching in front rows. When the procession reached the Legislative Yuan, banners with sensitive political messages supporting the 1992 Consensus were even erected. Moreover, there were even county magistrate candidates conducting irrelevant electoral campaign activities on the stage. The COA condemns such political election propagandas disguised as righteous social events at the expense of the fishermen. The COA vows to actively continue the dialogue with fishery associations in order to achieve sustainable development for Taiwan’s fishing industry.
Encourage fishermen to follow the rules and protect fishery resources for the sustainability of the industry
The COA emphasized that the government understands the concern of the fishermen towards high cost fines. As far as distant water fishery act is concerned, the authorities regard each offense as equally important. As for the complaints towards government enforcement, the COA allowed fishermen to vent their frustrations, while taking into consideration the proofs that mattered to the fishermen, thus carrying out sanctions accordingly. The COA also mentioned the alarming situation of fishery resource depletion due to overfishing in international waters, which can only be stopped by abiding international fisheries management organization regulations and relevant domestic laws. The COA vows to keep an open communication channel for the fishermen while encouraging them to follow international rules and therefore, secure sustainable development for fishery resources and industry. The COA believes that only then can 400.000 fishermen and 140.000 families’ livelihood truly be taken good cared of.