Taiwan’s illegal fishing practices: a toll on workers and the environment

Taiwan is one of the largest tuna suppliers worldwide, but fishing comes with a cost. (Image taken from Greenpeace)

By Charlotte Lee

The average person in Taiwan consumes 60 kg of seafood per year: three times the world average counted by the United Nations. An island surrounded by oceans, Taiwan’s economy and culture is closely tied to fishing and seafood.

However, many of Taiwan’s fishing practices are illegal, unreported, and unregulated. Many of the island’s fishing operations function using exploitative and abusive measures. Greenpeace, a non-governmental environmental organization, revealed that Taiwanese canned catfish commonly found in supermarkets is a product of coerced fisherman labor. Greenpeace also labels Taiwan’s fishing industry as “beset by issues of human trafficking, and forced or debt-bonded labor.” Employees work long hours, lack food and water, and are physically abused.

Alison Lee, a fisher interviewed by Greenpeace, said that “The new hires, the ones who’d just started working there, would all get a beating from the captain. One of them told me the captain had punched him many times.” Fishermen also reported being regularly shot by plastic bullets. Some said that their friends were shot and killed by their captains, and despite complaints to the police, no help was given.

Taiwanese authorities failed to crack down effective measures, and instead issued a mere yellow card warning.

Taiwan is one of the top three tuna suppliers for the global market: its primary customers are the United States, Japan, and Thailand. Taiwanese fish products that are stocked in supermarkets tens of thousands of kilometers away, are likely a product of exploitative labor.

Large scale industrialized fishing also destroys the habitats of salmon, sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks. Overfishing has been the cause of a terrifying drop eel population; black cod is now listed as an endangered species.