Taiwan works to avoid EU red card
Taiwan’s total fisheries production in 2014 was valued at approximately US$3.1 billion
Taiwan’s Executive Yuan has recently passed draft legislation and revised existing fishery regulations to comply with European Union (EU) demands for increased measures to eliminate IUU fishing by the republic’s large distant waters fishing fleet.
The development follows the EU’s issuing of a yellow card to Taiwan in October 2015 following the discovery of a Taiwanese fishing vessel violating shark finning laws in international waters after a long series of discussions between the EU and Taipei over the elimination of illegal fishing practices.
Recently, in March, Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency submitted a package of proposals to the Cabinet including the draft bill Regulations on Distant Fisheries along with amendments to the Fisheries Act and Ordinance to Govern Investment in the Operation of Foreign Flag Fishing Vessels. The draft bill and revisions must now undergo ratification by the Legislative Yuan to become law.
Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister, Chen Chih Ching, who oversees the fishing industry, is reported in the Taiwanese press as saying COA would increase communications with the fishing industry and the republic’s highest lawmaking body to ensure the required legislative changes are made.
Addressing a recent press conference in Taipei, Chen explained that COA was due to report back to the EU on its progress in implementing 11 requested improvement measures to combat IUU fishing.
Although it was impossible to meet the EU’s deadline in making amendments and passing new laws by the end of March, Chen said that if the EU approves Taiwan’s progress with the improvement plan, the deadline could be moved forward by a further six months, averting the threat of the EU issuing a red card and a consequent ban on Taiwanese seafood imports.
COA already had passed an English translation of the draft bill and Fisheries Law revisions to the EU in February, according to Chen, following which the European Commission had confirmed in mid-March that Taiwan’s progress had met its requirements.
The draft legislation was provided to the EU as the Regulations on Distant Fisheries was a completely new law, Chen explained, and Taiwan had needed to refer to recent legislative changes made by South Korea and the Philippines to their own fisheries laws to satisfy EU requirements after also being issued with yellow cards by the EU for failing to tackle IUU fishing.
Although COA now does not expect Taiwan to receive a red card and anticipates the yellow card will be withdrawn, government efforts to comply with EU recommendations to tighten controls on IUU fishing have caused public controversy in Taiwan. A number of opposition lawmakers and NGOs have complained that the drafting of the new fisheries legislation had not been conducted in a transparent manner and had not been open to public scrutiny.
Lawmakers also have complained that the Fisheries Agency has not moved faster to tackle IUU fishing as the issue has been under discussion with the EU since 2012.
Among the key features of the draft law and Fisheries Law amendments are new regulations increasing penalties for IUU fishing activities.
Parties involved in IUU fishing operations or handling IUU fish stocks face prisons terms ranging from six months to three years along with fines from NT$6 million to $30 million (US$185,000 to $925,000).
Taiwan’s fishing also is implementing other measures to combat IUU fishing. COA has introduced new regulations requiring all fishing vessels to install a Vessel Monitoring System by the end of June this year to report back daily fishing catches.
“We have made a lot of improvements, we have introduced electronic logbooks and we promote landing declarations so that fishing vessels get a permit first before landing their catch, though this depends on fishing port facilities; it’s the same with fish transshipment on the high seas,” commented a senior fishing industry source in Taipei.
The EU is an important market for Taiwan’s fisheries exports, in particular for canned tuna products.
“We are a net exporter of seafood. It’s bigger than imports. About 60% to 70% of our distant waters catch is exported, the big markets are the United States, Japan, the EU and Thailand,” the source said.
“About US$200 million a year is exported to the EU – mostly skipjack and yellowfin; also, some swordfish.
“Japan takes frozen sashimi, tuna and Pacific saury and some squid. The United States is tuna for canneries and some swordfish. Thailand is skipjack and yellowfin for their canneries.”
Taiwan operates a large distant water fishing fleet numbering about 1,300 vessels that operate mainly in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Some of the vessels land their entire catch overseas and never call at ports in Taiwan.
In 2014 the distant water fishing fleet included 34 tuna purse seine vessels, 332 large scale tuna longline vessels, 746 small scale tuna longline boats, 99 squid jiggers and 91 torch light net vessels for Pacific saury.
The EU first entered into a dialogue with Taiwan in 2012 after introducing regulations to combat IUU fishing. Since then the EU has conducted several audits of the republic’s fishing industry, the last audit being carried out in March 2015.
The EU then issued Taiwan with a yellow card on 1 October 2015, citing the failure of its legal system to deter IUU fishing as the main reason.
“The decision to issue a yellow card to Taiwan is based on serious shortcomings in the fisheries legal framework, a system of sanctions that does not deter IUU fishing, and lack of effective monitoring, control and surveillance of the long distance fleet. Furthermore Taiwan does not systematically comply with Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) obligations,” the European Commission said in a statement announcing the yellow carding.
Taiwan’s fisheries industry says that some improvements already have been made in combating IUU fishing prior to the new draft bill being drawn up and amendments to existing laws being proposed.
“We have made some progress but unfortunately the EU has considered our fisheries legal framework not sufficient as it’s based on a different philosophy – it focuses on the suspension of fishing rights and the captain’s license,” the source explained.
“Also, the monetary fine is limited as the existing law considers that if the fishing or captain’s license is suspended for one year they will incur a large loss, but the EU thinks we should also increase the fine. Our maximum fine now is NT$150,000.”
The willingness of the Philippines and South Korean governments to comply with EU requirements to combat IUU fishing has been an important influence on the Taiwanese government in proposing legislative changes while the fishing industry also sees a need to follow a sustainable path to ensure its future livelihood.
“South Korea and the Philippines already have amended their fishing laws; if we do not follow the EU requirement we may receive a red card,” the source said.
“From the viewpoint of the international sustainability of fishery resources we can accept these requirements. We know we have some fishery management weaknesses and we have to improve. The EU has pointed out some weaknesses that we accept and have to do something about.”
Taiwan is also working with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) from which various measures have been adopted to improve fisheries management and ensure compliance and traceability including the use of e-landing books and landing declaration.
“During the past two years after talking to the EU we started new measures including MSC measures, landing certificates and auditing fish traders,” the source said.
“The whole supply chain is involved. We want to enhance traceability, so we audit to ensure compliance. We base compliance on risk analysis – for high risk species such as bluefin tuna it’s 100%, while for southern bluefin tuna it’s about 50%.”
Efforts to comply with EU requirements come at a time when Taiwan’s distant water fishing fleet faces tough conditions due to rising operating costs while fish prices have fallen.
Costs continue to rise for purse seiners operating in the Western & Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) the source noted, with the vessel day fee rising from US$4,000 to $12,000 per day for the whole year.
In addition, the use of FADs in the WCPO is now restricted for four months annually from July to October as part of efforts to prevent juvenile big eye from being caught.
Purse seiners wishing to use FADs during the restricted period are required to pay an additional $1,000 per FAD per day in addition to the Vessel Day Fee.
“If we fish then the license price is much higher and to use the MSC label all vessels need to have two approved observers, so the cost is higher as well,” the source commented. “Business prospects are not so good. Business will continue as this is about food but our production will reduce as costs are higher.
”For the past 30 years the Japanese distant water fisheries has declined and we grew, now it is time for us to decline and for China and other countries to increase. Thirty years ago we were cheaper but now we are not so competitive as this industry is labour intensive.”
Taiwanese fishing companies have developed strong and efficient marketing channels. One possibility is that some fishing companies increase their fish trading activities in the future while their own catch declines.
“With fishing operations we cannot compete with China as they have fuel subsidies for fuel prices and for fishing vessel building, but in Taiwan there are no shipbuilding or fishing vessel fuel subsidies,” the source said. “In China the government also subsidises the fuel cost of transshipment costs but we cannot.”
While the size of Taiwan’s distant water fleet is expected to decrease in future due to rising costs, fishing companies are expected to switch to use smaller and lighter FRP fiberglass hull fishing vessels that have lower fuel costs for purse seining and long lining.
Substantial cost savings are possible with smaller FRP fibreglass vessels, the source noted.
A fiberglass longliner that is less than 300 metric tons (mt) and from 30 to 40 metres in length, for example, has less freezer capacity than a regular 700mt vessel 50 to 60 metres in length but can transship its catch.
This will provide a 40% saving on fuel costs, according to the source, as fuel is about 50% of Taiwanese fishing costs, creating a saving of about 20% on the total fishing cost by using a FRP fiberglass vessel.
“With this 20% saving they can earn a profit,” the source remarked. “The new FRP fiberglass vessels are made in Taiwan; South Korean and Japanese fishing boat owners also want to order them. It’s been happening for two to three years already.
“Owners scrap or sell their big vessels and start using FRP fiberglass vessels. This started when oil prices hit US$100 per barrel.
“If they scrap they can build a new vessel and get a new vessel license. The government here does not allow the size of our fishing fleet to increase.”
According to government statistics, Taiwan’s total fisheries production in 2014 was about 1.4 million mt with a value of about US$3.1 billion.
Total production included distant water fisheries production of about 900,000mt worth $1.3 billion accounting for 63.8% of total production by volume and 41.6% of the total value.
In 2014 distant water fisheries accounted for 83% of Taiwan’s total marine fisheries production while coastal and offshore fisheries accounted for the remaining 17% share.
Taiwan’s distant water fleet catches mainly tuna, squid and Pacific saury. Less than 40% of the distant water catch is landed in Taiwan.
In 2014 tuna accounted for about 420,000mt or almost half of the distant water catch while squid jigging was 206,000mt and Pacific saury 230,000mt.
Skipjack accounts for about 90% of Taiwan’s distant waters purse seiner catch while bigeye account for almost the entire distant waters longline fleet catch. Most bigeye caught are sashimi grade for export to Japan.
Over 80% of yellowfin tuna caught by longline vessels are sashimi grade and exported, while yellowfin caught by Taiwanese purse seiners are supplied to tuna canneries.
Around 80% of tuna landed in Taiwan is re-exported while only about 20% is consumed locally. In 2014 the longline tuna catch was worth US$639 million while the purse seine tuna catch was valued at $249 million.
“Albacore also is used mostly for canning but now Taiwanese boats are catching albacore for sashimi,” the source said. “The fishing cost is the same but the sashimi selling price is higher.”