Experts split on anchovy fishing

The China Post staff

As Taiwan’s offshore fishing production continues to drop year by year, to what degree the island should restrict the fishing of anchovies, one of the main food sources for other large fish, still divides environmentalists and scholars.

According to a report by the Fisheries Administration, the island generated 288,151 metric tons of anchovies in 1997, 253,330 in 1998 and in 1999, was down to 245,551. Liao Hong-chi, president of Kurshio Ocean Education Foundation, urges a ban on the catch of anchovies immediately, adding that it would be an effective way to restore Taiwan’s deteriorating marine life. And although Liao agrees on the necessity of utilizing natural resources, he says, “the restriction looms imminent as the island is currently facing a devastating lack of fish.”

“We cannot afford to wait any longer.” However, Lee Kao-tien, a professor at National Taiwan Ocean University disagreed, calling the proposed fishing restriction, “a purely emotional and subjective idea.” “Global warming changes the temperature of the ocean and is the primary reason for the decreased production,” he said, adding that “to outlaw the fishing of anchovies will not necessarily revive the fishing industry.” Lee, emphasizing the sustainable use of sea resources, endorses a restriction which would regulate the size of anchovies that could be caught. He said, “the media has largely sided with environmental groups and activists who lack a full understanding of the issue.”

A certain number of anchovies are bound to die because there is not enough food for all of them in inshore waters, Lee said. “And a limited restriction would therefore seem reasonable.”

“We need not be pessimistic,” he stressed, referring to the decreasing amount of fish. With the enforcement of regulations by the Coast Guard Administration (CGA), he said, “we must hold out the hope that the situation will improve.”

The CGA, founded last year, is obligated to exert its power to oversee any illegal fishing activity and maintain the sea resources according to the law.

On top of climate irregularities caused by global warming, sea pollution, incremental competitiveness among Taiwan fishermen, illegal catches by fishermen from the mainland also play a significant role in the anchovy’s demise, said Hu Sing-hwa, director general of Fisheries Administration. And to ensure a more appropriate management of resources, the island’s primary locations for anchovy fishing — Ilan, Pingtung and Kaohsiung — must all implement the recently-passed regulation, he stated.

The regulation restricts the number of anchovy fishing boats, total annual production, the type of fishing equipment allowed and the allowed fishing periods.

Fishermen are forbidden to catch the fish during the reproductive season, between June and August, according to Hu. “The aim is to lessen damage to a minimal degree,” he said. With the emergence of a split between conservation activists and scholars on how to handle the problem, the government is now weighing the possibility of prohibiting anchovy fishing altogether.

After Taiwan enters the World Trade Organization (WTO), it will also allow anchovies to be imported from overseas to ease the market demand, he added. Even though his family has lived on the anchovy business for generations, Huang Wen-liang, while acknowledging that fishermen are experiencing gloomy anchovy harvests, said that he supports a limited restriction, banning only the catch of baby anchovies.

“For some reason, the anchovy population has also decreased and we are not making as much profit compared to a couple of years ago,” Huang said, adding that the number of the island’s anchovies, who usually lay their eggs in the ocean, depends on the direction and force of the wave.

“The island’s slow economy also prevents consumers from paying for the fish,” he said. While giving no further information on the optimal size of the fish that are allowed to be caught, “neither could we make any profit if an anchovy is fully grown,” said a 28-year-old of Fangliao in Pingtung, whose family usually buys anchovies from fishermen and sells them in the market.

The anchovy, rich in calcium and other nutrition, is commonly used in Taiwan dishes. People find the bite-size fish easy to eat.

Buccaneer anchovy and Japanese anchovy are the two major types in Taiwan’s market.