Fishermen protest against stiffer fines under new laws

Taipei, Over 2,000 fishermen from Yilan and Pingtung staged a protest in Taipei Tuesday to express their discontent with what they consider to be overly stiff fines for violating three of Taiwan's amended fisheries laws.

The protesters rallied in front of the Council of Agriculture (COA) building and then marched toward the Legislative Yuan, demanding that the relevant laws and regulations be reviewed.

The protest aims to safeguard the rights and interests of Taiwanese fishermen operating legally in the overlapping exclusive economic zones, demand revisions to unreasonable laws and regulations and express opposition to excessive enforcement of the three laws and what they consider to be "exorbitant fines" imposed on deep-water fishing operators working illegally that could threaten their survival, said Wang Hsin-chan (???), the head of a Pingtung-based fishermen's self-help association.

The COA's Fisheries Agency (FA) in July 2016 amended three relevant laws: the Act for Distant Water Fisheries, the Act Governing Investment in the Operation of Foreign-Flagged Fishing Vessels, and the Fisheries Act, which came into effect Jan. 20, 2017 as part of government efforts to get Taiwan removed from the European Union's "yellow card" watch list for insufficient cooperation in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Under the three new fisheries laws, maximum fines for illegal fishing were raised to range from NT$6 million-NT$30 million (US$195,065-US$975,616), with penalties for repeat offenders bumped to NT$45 million.

In October 2015, the EU placed the country on the watch list and since then, EU officials have visited the country every six months to determine how those issues are being addressed.

However, the EU can issue a red card if problematic issues are not resolved, which could lead to a ban on Taiwan's fishery products being exported to the EU and could result in an estimated NT$50 billion-NT$60 billion per year in losses to the fisheries industry, the COA said earlier this year.

Earlier that day, opposition Kuomintang lawmaker Ko Chih-en (???) said at a press conference that was also attended by Wang and other fishermen that the protest does not mean fishermen are unwilling to come under the management of the government.

However, they are willing to come under competent and effective management but according to Ko, it is unfair to impose stiff fines on fishermen for "unintentionally violating the rules," while calling on the government to review the laws.

In addition, another KMT legislator, Chen Yi-ming (???), said that since the three laws came into effect, cumulative fines have reached NT$120 million, leaving fishermen with no option but to take to the streets.

Chen said the government did not communicate with fishermen when enacting the three laws and relevant regulations and failed to give a grace period before meting out fines for violating the regulations.

In response, FA Deputy Director-General Lin Kuo-ping (???) said the agency has heard the protesting fishermen and will continue communicating with fishermen's groups and providing assistance to fishermen with long-distance fishing operations, with the precondition that the overall interests of the fisheries industry are protected.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel