Taiwan in Fisheries / by Francisco Blaha

Taiwan is a substantial player in world fisheries, and really big in the Pacific. Their complex relationship with China has an impact on the way they conduct their fisheries and their responsibilities as flag state.

In no way I’m and expert on this topic (nor in any really!) but I’m interested in their fishing sector, since I have to deal with their vessels very often, as many of the countries that actually have diplomatic ties with them are in the Pacific and license them to fish. And as I like reading, this is what I found.

Despite being home to one of the largest fishing industries in the world, Taiwan cannot participate fully in international fisheries management and conservation efforts due to its ambiguous political status and restricted “international space:, but has used its fisheries diplomacy as political leverage to expand its participation in bilateral, regional, and international fisheries-related agreements.

Taiwan's official diplomatic relations are few and its participation in international organizations limited as a result of the “One China” principle. Concerned about the perception of elevating Taiwan’s international status, China is reluctant to cede “international space” to Taiwan and objects to Taiwan’s expanded participation in international organizations. China displaced Taiwan at the UN in 1971 and its growing international clout since then has further constrained Taiwan’s ability to participate in the UN and its specialized agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Maritime Organization, and the International Labor Organization—all agencies that address fisheries-related issues.

Taiwan began developing its fishing industry in the 1950s, and by the 1960s turned to distant water fishing to compensate for overfished coastal waters. This shift led Taiwan to be a global player in high seas fisheries, particularly tuna and squid. According to 2013 statistics from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which I doubt are really accurate), Taiwan fishing vessels bring in 1.2 million metric tons of catch annually worth U$D 3.5 billion; around 50% percent of this value comes from high seas fishing mostly in the Pacific, but also the Indian, and Atlantic oceans.

 Image from this  source

Image from this source

The UNFSA (United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement) crystallized the concept of “fishing entities” for the first time in a binding UN instrument. The text of the agreement never explicitly mentions Taiwan; however, the term “fishing entities” is generally understood to include Taiwan. Although the international community does not treat Taiwan as a sovereign state for purposes of membership in international governmental organizations that require statehood for membership, Taiwan’s status as a “fishing entity” in the UN enables it to circumvent challenges related to its political status while participating in RFMOs.

Taiwan’s first full RFMO membership in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in 2002 marked a turning point for Taiwan in terms of its historically limited participation in RFMOs. Despite Taiwan’s designation as “Chinese Taipei,” the WCPFC Convention afforded Taiwan rights and duties similar to those of states with Contracting Party status.

As a non-Contracting Party Member, Taiwan has a slightly abbreviated range of rights: it is ineligible to serve in the chairmanship or vice chairmanship, to determine the Commission headquarters, or to appoint the executive director. Otherwise, it participates fully in the WCPFC’s chief business of managing and sustaining highly migratory fish stocks in the Pacific Ocean. Because the WCPFC was the first effort to implement the UNFSA at a regional level, Taiwan’s membership set the tone and served as a model for its subsequent inclusion in RFMOs.

In the Pacific, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, and Palau—all of whom officially recognize Taiwan and are WCPFC members, hence supported Taiwan’s participation in the organization.

While in principle the “regulatory gaps” arising from or exacerbated by its limited international space challenge Taiwan’s fisheries and fishing industry in two key areas: in (1) illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and (2) labor conditions aboard long-haul fishing vessels. I think that Taiwan also takes advantage of them too, they pushing the envelope while playing the victim game.

On the labor side, other than the skipper and the chief engineer, I think I never have seen a Taiwanese crew member… all the crew are Indonesians, Cambodians, Philippines, Myanmarians and Vietnamese. And while the conditions on board are really harsh (therefore we have problems finding observers keen to be placed there) obviously the conditions at the home for many of the crew must be worst, because rarely I have seen a crew member jumping boat in Pacific ports… but a personal observation and is not always the case, as reported by media

 Issues on/with Taiwanese vessels

Issues on/with Taiwanese vessels

On the IUU side, they never been transparent, most of the logsheets I have seen were very dodgy at best, very active with underreporting sharks catches and concealing fins, they are always been involved in allegation of corruption, and so on.

Furthermore, Taiwan could do more at the domestic level to address its industry’s use of “flags of convenience” to evade scrutiny in fishing activities (most of the Vanuatu flagged longliners are Taiwanese), and the list is long

The Taiwanese Industry receive an estimated 330 million USD in subsidies every year (R. Sumalia pers.com) which surely helps to buy sufficient VDS days to their Purse Seiner Fleet (see here for details on their Purse Seiners) and now to the Long Line (see here for details on their LL).

They have also played a political game with Tuvalu and Marshalls by not allowing them to get vessels flagged on their flag as a pressure to get more and cheaper vessels days under the VDS. However, this seems to have been arranged, in November last year Tuvalu has been given the green light to export its newly built purse seine vessel Tautaloa from Taiwan to Tuvalu (bringing its fleet strength to two vessels)

Tautaloa was built in March 2012 by Taiwan’s shipbuilding company Ching Fu but, due to its national laws on the construction of new purse seine boats, stating that the equivalent tonnage of old purse seine boats needed to be scrapped, work on the boat and subsequent delivery to Tuvalu was stalled. Tuvalu raised the issue in PNA, FFA, and WCPFC meetings, as well as negotiations with Taiwan, and had even called for the reduction of fishing days to the distant water fishing nation as a result of its stalling of the new vessel.

Nevertheless, Taiwan’s fishing industry has been going around the limitation on vessels in other countries where they have diplomatic leverage, by flagging them there (most recently the Solomons)

Also, I find interesting that in some of the Micronesian countries were the Taiwanese fleet has charters, the company in charge is Luen Tai, a Hong Kong based company with strong backing from mainland China capitals. So, obviously, politics is not a hindrance for business…

I wasn’t impressed with yellow cards by the EU to the smaller Pacific countries, but on insight they did catalyze a lot of changes that were in the pipeline.

Nevertheless, I was “happy” when they put Taiwan on yellow (Taiwanese fishing companies aren’t happy and criticize their govt as weak and the EU as racist).

Was good that yellowed also Tailand because most of the Taiwanese caught tuna went to Thailand with Taiwanese Catch Certificates, and Taiwan Fisheries Agency must had truly not idea what the vessels were doing (and Thailand did not ask either)... but they want to work in unison now.

Again, the stick works, to my surprise, since then Taiwanese longliners operating in the Pacific are required to report their position daily to Taiwan Fisheries Agency, and yesterday I saw for fist time 2 Taiwanese fisheries officers (acting as Observers) in a Pacific country! They were controlling weights of the part the catch unloaded to be exported. However, they had no idea that their fleet was operating in the port I was until they came (vessels have been unloading here for the last 5 years!)

So obviously they tighten up their game (Finally!) Which is good, but perhaps a bit late since their massive fleet is, directly and indirectly, encysted in the Pacific and bad habits change slowly.

But what irks me massively, is that Taiwan and China are the biggest DWFN in the region, and support their industry with some obscene amount of subsidies. Said so, in 15 years working with the institutional side of Fisheries in the Pacific, I have yet to see a fisheries capacity building or an institutional strengthening project financed by any of them. I find that quite despicable.