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Fisheries Agency pleads ignorance of Taiwan-flagged ships' illegal fishing activities

NGO identified Taiwanese vessels ‘pillaging the waters off Argentina’

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A fishing trawler operating under the cover of darkness. Taiwanese fishing vessels have been accused of disappearing from public tracki...

A fishing trawler operating under the cover of darkness. Taiwanese fishing vessels have been accused of disappearing from public tracki...

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency is questioning why Taiwan has been listed as engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in a recent report by the U.S. government.

The agency said Monday (Aug. 16) that it was caught unawares by the report, which listed Taiwan for the first time. It stated that it had not been notified by the U.S. about the findings and indicated that it will contact the U.S. government to seek out the reason for the listing, according to a CNA report.

The "2021 Biennial Report to Congress on Improving International Fisheries Management," released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Aug. 12, identified 31 nations and entities involved in IUU fishing activities.

Taiwan was one of them for the first time since the NOAA biennial report was first published in 2009, having been found to have vessels engaged in IUU fishing and bycatch, or unwanted catch and discard activities, from 2018 to 2020.

The report said Taiwanese vessels have violated "conservation measures" in various regional fisheries management organizations in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans during that time frame and accused Taiwan's government of failing to take corrective action.

According to the Fisheries Agency, the NOAA report's accusation that 13 Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels were involved in such violations was largely based on findings made by NGOs.

Oceana, an international organization focused solely on oceans, is one of those NGOs. Their recent report listed illegal activities by Taiwanese vessels in waters as far from Taiwan as the east coast of South America.

Taiwan was listed among four foreign countries whose fishing vessels were accused of “pillaging the waters off Argentina and disappearing from public tracking systems,” said Oceana’s Beth Lowell.

Fisheries Agency pleads ignorance of Taiwan-flagged ships' illegal fishing activities
This Graphic shows the build-up of invisible foreign fishing fleets dropping anchor along the edge of Argentina's exclusive economic zone. The Oceana report lists Taiwanese vessels as carrying out illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in these waters. (Oceana.org graphic)

In comparison to the deliberately evasive foreign fleets, Argentina’s ships conducted less than 1% of total fishing hours in their own domain from 2018 to 2021, the report said.

Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency claims the NOAA, however, did not provide more details on the 13 vessels in question, including their names or violations. The agency said it believes the violations reported happened two to three years ago, which aligns with the timeline of the accusations made by Oceana.

The Fisheries Agency says fisheries management organizations of other countries, as opposed to NGOs, have not listed Taiwan-flagged vessels in recent years. The agency will try to get more information from the U.S. before deciding whether to punish violators accordingly.

The NOAA report said the accusations were based on NGO-conducted interviews with crew members of Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels at the conclusion of their contracts.

Some of the violations named in the report include transshipment and shark-related conservation measures.

Now that Taiwan has been identified in the report, the NOAA said, it will continue to evaluate whether Taiwan has taken steps to investigate these violations and take corrective action accordingly before releasing its next report in 2023.

The NOAA is an American scientific and regulatory agency under the U.S. Department of Commerce that issues a report on international fisheries management to the U.S. Congress every two years.

Despite this being Taiwan’s first listing in the report, just last year the U.S. Department of Labor listed Taiwan-caught fish in its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor in September 2020.

In response, three Control Yuan members released recommendations for improving the record of Taiwan’s distant-water fleets (DWFs), concluding that, despite Taiwan’s comprehensive laws on the matter, effective enforcement was hampered by the authorities' ignorance over what labor exploitation actually means regarding human trafficking at sea.

“Even though the Fisheries Agency of the Council of Agriculture dispatches personnel to inspect the fishery sector, it still does the inspection of crew by survey questionnaire,” the Control Yuan report stated. “Its technical knowledge of human trafficking still are insufficient [and require] review and improvement.”

“Forced labor in Taiwan’s DWFs has greatly damaged Taiwan’s international reputation, and the Control Yuan recognizes that the challenge is beyond the sole competence of the Fisheries Agency,” wrote Dr. Bonny Ling, a human rights scholar, in May. “It, therefore, calls on the Executive Yuan to review inter-ministerial communication with the view to facilitate cooperation and timely response.”