The China Post news staff
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The rising operating costs propelled by fuel prices and labor shortage are weighing on the ocean-going fishing industry and forcing up prices for seafood. The plight prompted officials at the Fisheries Agency under the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture to help ease financial woes faced by the industry. Sha Chih-yi, director of the agency, said the fish catch of Taiwan’s ocean-going ships amounted to 466,005 metric tons during the first half of the year, representing a drop of 120,000 tons or 20.5 percent from the same period of last year. The catch of fishing boats operating near the coastal areas showed a steeper fall of 27.5 percent, or more than 21,000 tons, to 56,553 tons in the same period. But the average retailing price of the fishery products at 13 sampled markets on the island surged 21 percent in July from the same month of 2007, according to market survey by the COA. Of the 450 registered ocean-going ships, half have been idled because owners are worried that more fishing trips will only cause greater financial deficits because they are unable to cover the operation costs.
Before the successive climbs fuel cost, a fishing boat could break even with a catch of 0.5 ton of fishery products.
But it needs a catch of at least one or 1.5 tons now before yielding any profit. In order to lower their operating costs, many shipowners were forced to hire illegal workers from China or neighboring Southeast Asian nations because few locals are willing to take up the hard work. The COA has been subsidizing diesel costs to help alleviate the financial burden of rising fuel bills.
Sha said the COA will start offering an extra subsidy of NT$2,000 a month for every legitimate foreign worker hired by the shipowners starting in January. The quota for the subsidy is temporarily set at hiring 500 fishing hands for the first year at the initial stage.
This will encourage operators to employ the legally registered workers for better management and reduce risks. There were several major murders and mutinies aboard Taiwan fishing boats in recent years involving workers hired from China or foreign nations. Normally shipowners pay slightly over NT$10,000 for an illegal foreigner but may pay twice for as much the legitimate ones. Sha said his agency will also coordinate with the Council of Labor Affairs to lower the NT$1,900 “vocational stabilization fee” that has to be paid by shipowners per month for each foreign worker they hire. Other ongoing measures taken by the Fisheries Agency include the purchase of old ocean-going ships to help shipowners acquire more efficient ships with modern facilities. The agency is also helping the fishing industry to modify fishing habits and practices, including making more careful selection of fishing locations due to the depletion of fishery resources. Certain areas should be left along for a period of time to allow the recovery of the marine life.