Taiwan's embattled fisheries industry has sailed into hot water once again.

The Taiwan-flagged Yi Rong No. 6 was apprehended by New Zealand authorities after it was found sailing close to the Kermadec Islands, which lie within New Zealand's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), earlier this month. Sailors and fisheries officials aboard the HMNZS Otago monitoring vessel boarded the Taiwanese ship, Stuff reported.

While the vessel was not illegally fishing in New Zealand's EEZ, officials found several breaches of international fishing regulations and reported these violations to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the governing body in charge of overseeing fishing in the region.


Photo: Royal New Zealand Navy

New Zealand's HMNZS Otago.

Fisheries NZ, New Zealand's fishery regulatory body, declined to state which violations it found aboard the vessel, saying it had "no legal authority to release details on alleged breaches."

In a statement released this morning, Taiwan's Fisheries Agency (FA) mentioned just one potential breach: Yi Rong No. 6 was "alleged to have used only one seabird mitigation measure instead of two as required by the WCPFC."

The FA said Yi Rong No. 6 respected the right of New Zealand authorities to board, and continued by saying: "Taiwanese fishing vessels have been cooperative and complying with relevant regulations as well as other conservation and management measures."

To that last point, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the European Commission (EC) may respectfully disagree. In July, the ILO announced that a Taiwanese ship, later identified as the Fuh Sheng No. 11, became the first fishing vessel ever detained under its Work in Fishing Convention (also known as C188), which enforces labor standards at sea.

The ship was detained in South Africa, which has ratified C188. Despite long-standing calls from nongovernmental organizations to ratify the convention, Taiwan has shown no indication of doing so.


Photo: ILO

Taiwanese vessel Fuh Sheng No. 11, detained by South African authorities for violating the ILO Work in Fishing Convention.

Taiwan has also operated under an EC "yellow card" warning for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing since 2015. A "red card" would ban fishing exports to the European Union, which Taiwan's Council of Agriculture estimates would cost the industry NT$7 billion (US$243.6 million) in annual losses. EC officials visited Taiwan in March to review the country's status, but ultimately did not lift the card.

According to Focus Taiwan, the EC plans to decide on whether it will lift the yellow card – or replace it with a red card – by the end of this year.

The "yellow card" is considered to be a review period of sorts, and while Taiwan has made progress by meeting with a newly strengthened coalition of local and international NGOs called Human Rights for Migrant Fishers – which agitates for improved labor conditions and an end to IUU fishing – the sentiment has long been that change is not happening quickly enough.

"Despite Taiwan's new laws on fishery management and migrant fishermen protection, from the recent cases including the Fu Sheng No.11 case reported by ILO, we can see that regulation implementation and inspection are not thorough, Greenpeace Global Investigation Lead Yi Chiao Lee (李宜蕎) told The News Lens in an email. "We hope the Taiwan government will be more proactive in law enforcement, rather than investigating and remediating only after violations of the Taiwanese vessels are discovered by other countries and organizations."

"The Taiwanese government have form for being impotent and incredibly lax when it comes to offending by vessels flagged to Taiwan, in terms of environmental crimes and human rights abuses... they just sweep them under the carpet," investigator Tim McKinnel, who has probed the fisheries industry for Greenpeace, told Stuff.

Yi Rong No. 6, which practices a prevalent yet controversial form of commercial fishing called longlining, is believed to be on the prowl for Southern Bluefin Tuna.

The vessel has remained just outside New Zealand waters, near the Kermadec Islands, since being boarded by that country's investigators, leading to suspicions that it is engaging in a practice referred to as "fishing the fence," or snaring tuna before heading back to the outlying waters of the Kermadecs.

Fisheries NZ official Greg Keys told Stuff that a "full report" was sent to Taiwan on August 10. Taiwan's FA, in this morning's statement, said a further investigation has commenced and "the investigation report will be completed and submitted to the WCPFC within two months," in accordance with WCPFC regulations.

NGOs have long been skeptical that the FA does its due diligence in initiating its own investigations or cooperating with those of others – a sentiment punctuated by two reports released this year by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in March, and Greenpeace in May.


Photo: Greenpeace

A dead tuna pictured on a Pacific Ocean longline fishing vessel.

"It's already a habit for FA to cover up the IUU practices of the Taiwan fishing vessels," Lennon Ying-dah Wong (汪英達) of coalition member Serve the People Association (SPA) told The News Lens.

"If FA can't recognize their responsibility to enforce and upgrade the law to adhere with the international standards, we will only see more and more incidents like this happen around the world," he said.

2018 has certainly seen an uptick in incidents aboard Taiwan's distant water fishing fleet – listed below in an abridged timeline:

  • March 13: EJF releases a report, and corresponding video, condemning numerous incidences of labor abuse and IUU fishing aboard Taiwanese vessels – just as EC investigators landed in Taiwan.
  • May 17: NGO coalition Human Rights for Migrant Fishers holds a joint rally in front of the Presidential Office Building, calling for the adoption of the Work in Fishing Convention and coverage for distant water migrant workers under the Labor Standards Act (LSA).
  • May 17: An Indonesian fisherman is stabbed and pushed overboard by a fellow crew member at sea on Taiwanese vessel Ming Man Hsiang No. 38; he was never found and a murder investigation was opened.
  • May 24: Greenpeace releases a report condemning instances of abuse at sea; The News Lens reports on the practice of dumping the bodies of deceased fishermen overboard.
  • May 25: Taiwanese seafood trader FCF, implicated in the Greenpeace report, says in a statement it is “disappointed that [Greenpeace is] implicating us in old incidents and cases.”
  • June 1: An Indonesian fisherman recalls tales of squalid working conditions and abuse at sea in a hearing at Taipei's Legislative Yuan.
  • July 17: The ILO announces the detention and subsequent release of Fuh Sheng No. 11 for violations of the Work in Fishing Convention.
  • July 25: Protesters gather outside the International Workshop to Combat Human Trafficking in Taipei, commissioning a truck to traverse the city displaying videos of labor abuse at sea.
  • August 27: Taiwanese vessel Yi Rong No. 6 is accused of regulatory violations by New Zealand authorities.

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