Harsher steps taken on Taiwan fish poachers

JIJI

The Fisheries Agency and the coast guard have been cracking down harder on illegal fishing by Taiwan in Japan’s exclusive economic zone since a bilateral pact took effect May 10.

The deal allows Taiwanese boats to operate in a joint fishing zone set up within the EEZ based on the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Since the accord was agreed, three Taiwanese vessels have been seized by the Fisheries Agency for operating in the EEZ outside the special fishing zone. The agency is facing a patrol vessel shortage because it needs to monitor other areas as well, one of its officials said.

According to the agency and coast guard, the EEZ was created when the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea took effect in Japan in 1996. Under EEZ rules, foreign fishing boats basically require permission to operate in the zone. Noncompliant ships can be seized for violating a nation’s sovereign fishing rights.

After the EEZ grace period expired, Japan signed new fishery pacts with South Korea in 1999 and with China in 2000.

Under the agreements, Japan prohibited unauthorized fishing in the EEZ but made exceptions for special areas, such as the waters around the Senkaku islet chain, claimed by both China and Taiwan, and around the South Korea-controlled Takeshima Islands that Tokyo claims in the Sea of Japan.

After the agency and coast guard tightened surveillance of the EEZ, a total of 32 Chinese and South Korean fishing boats were seized in 2000 and 33 in 2001. “We check the borders thoroughly to make sure that foreign fishing boats abide by the rules,” an agency official said.

But the EEZs claimed by Japan and Taiwan overlap, and Japanese authorities have previously chased away Taiwanese boats spotted in Japan’s exclusive zone.

Now that the new pact has clarified the areas where Taiwanese fishing boats can operate, the agency is using 10 patrol vessels, twice the previous number, to monitor and halt illegal fishing by Taiwan. The coast guard is also stepping up surveillance.

But the coast guard also needs to deal with repeated intrusions by Chinese government ships into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus, while the agency has to conduct surveillance activities nationwide.

“We face a lack of patrol vessels and have been asking for help from other areas,” the agency official said.