TAIPEI – One would have thought that Taiwanese and Japanese fishermen would have been content after their two governments signed a landmark fisheries pact two months ago, following years of on and off negotiations on fishing near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
This has not proven the case, however, and both sides are busy dealing with a list of complaints filed by their fishermen.
Fishermen in Okinawa are complaining that the accord failed to take their interests into account, as they say Taiwanese trawlers have more waters to operate in and should stay away from the areas covered by the agreement until new rules are established.
Some even go so far as to ask Tokyo to scrap certain parts of the deal.
Taiwanese fishermen, on the other hand, say Japanese authorities are implementing the agreement “too strictly” and they would like to see a buffer zone set up immediately outside the areas covered by the pact.
The agreement, signed April 10, allows Taiwanese trawlers to operate in Japan’s exclusive economic zone around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which Taiwan also claims and calls the Tiaoyutai, and China claims and refers to them as the Diaoyu.
It covers three zones where Taiwanese fishermen are allowed to fish, not including Japan’s 12-nautical-mile territorial waters around the contested islets.
Each side manages its own fishing boats in the biggest and second-largest of these areas, the “special cooperation zone.” There is also an area comprising smaller triangular zones where Taiwanese fishing boats can operate, covering an area of 4,530 sq. km.
Since the agreement came into force May 10, Taiwanese vessels have been detained for trespassing four times, only one of which in a zone subject to the agreement. The other three cases concerned fishing equipment drifting outside the zones.
The Japan Coast Guard has increased the number of vessels to patrol waters beyond the areas subject to the fisheries pact at the request of Okinawa’s fishermen.
The Taiwanese fishermen, of course, are not happy either.
Huang Yi-sen, chairman of Yilan County’s Association of Fishermen’s Rights, said the way the Japanese authorities are carrying out the agreement is “simply too strict.”
For instance, while the JCG previously allowed some leeway when infringements occurred, it is now detaining Taiwanese trawlers when their fishing equipment drifts out of the zone even less than 1 nautical mile, he said.
Suao Fishermen Association Director Chen Chun-sheng said if the situation continues, Tokyo will push Taiwanese fishermen into the embrace of China, which has been acting like a big brother to Taiwan in its fishing disputes with Japan.
“The relationship between Taiwan and Japan is like that between two couples,” he said. “On a scale from 1 to 10, Taiwan’s affection for Japan is a 10, but it’s a 3 that Japan has for us.”
Chen said China has constantly tried to convince him to organize Taiwanese fishermen to register their vessels as Chinese to fish in waters subject to a Sino-Japanese fishing treaty. Beijing not only promises protection, but it also asks its own fishermen to stay away from waters where Taiwanese fishermen operate to prevent any possible confrontation, he said.
“But I refused, because I didn’t want to sell out my country’s dignity,” Chen said. “What Japan needs to do is to grant us a small favor. What they’d get in return is our commitment to keep Chinese fishermen out of the waters, thus helping protect fishing resources there.”
In light of the infringements over the past month, Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency has been urging its fishermen to refrain from straying beyond the waters covered by the agreement.
James Sha, director general of Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency, said one way to convince Okinawa’s fishermen their interests have not been compromised, but instead advanced, is to make sure Taiwanese fishermen stick to the rules. Measures had been in place even before the pact took effect to keep fishing boats operating in those areas under tight control.
All Taiwanese boats hunting bluefin tuna and jack mackerel, or harvesting coral, in the East China Sea are required to obtain a license and report to the Fisheries Agency before going to sea.
Each vessel must be equipped with a vessel monitoring system or voyage data recorder and must inform the agency of each catch, which must be discharged at designated ports where fisheries personnel inspect them and record data.
While the agency deems the measures sufficient to maintain fishing order, its officials said they do not see the necessity of strengthening them or formulating new ones. Should such a necessity rise, it ought to be dealt with by the joint fisheries committee set up via the pact, they said.
The committee meets annually in principle to negotiate details of the agreement, including the number of boats and catch quotas. Its members met last month for the first time but failed to reach any consensus.
The committee will also continue negotiations on issues they failed to agree upon, including fishing in waters not yet covered by a bilateral fisheries agreement, such as the waters 12 nautical miles around the Senkakus, waters above 27 degrees north latitude and waters south of Okinawa’s Yaeyama Islands.
But some say more regulations may not be the best solution.
Alfred Hu, director of the Center for Marine Policy Studies at Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-sen University, said it is necessary to establish a maritime affairs ministry whose main task would be formulating comprehensive maritime policy.
It is also necessary to review the fisheries pact, which he called “fundamentally flawed” and said was the cause of the fishermen’s complaints.
But Lee Ming-jun, secretary-general of the Taiwanese Society of International Law, said the government should spend more time and effort adjusting the fisheries industry rather than figuring out ways to increase the catch from open-sea fishing.
The crux of the problem is neither the buffer zone nor the agreement itself, which will never please everyone, Lee said.
“Compromise is about give and take,” Lee said. “Everybody wins some. Everybody loses some. That’s the name of the game.”