Taipei, Aug. 27 (CNA) The European Union is "at the final stage" of reviewing Taiwan's progress on combating destructive fishing practices, with a decision on whether to lift the "yellow card" expected by the end of this year if everything goes well, EU Representative to Taiwan Madeleine Majorenko said on Friday.
The EU placed Taiwan on its watch list for insufficient cooperation in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in October 2015. Since then, EU officials have visited the country every six months to inspect how the issues are being addressed.
The latest fact-finding trip by EU officials to Taiwan in late March failed to result in a recommendation that the European Commission withdraws Taiwan's "yellow card" status, much to the disappointment of the local fishing industry.
In an interview with CNA, Majorenko said that Taiwan's Fisheries Agency under the Council of Agriculture has taken the issue very seriously and has worked very hard to get good results.
"I think this has been recognized by the EU and we are now at the final stage."
The "yellow card" warning could lead to a ban on Taiwan's fishery products being exported to the EU if a "red card" is issued. This has prompted Taiwan to enact the Act Governing Distant Water Fisheries and related rules to curb IUU practices in 2016.
"What has been very important lately in the last six to eight months is that the Fisheries Agency has focused very much on enforcement (of the new rules)," Majorenko said.
Majorenko said that she has heard complaints from the local fishing industry about how the imposition of the "yellow card" has affected the industry, which suggested that implementation of the new rules was "bringing about a change in (fishing) behavior."
From January to April this year, 19 fishing vessels have been recorded for IUU fishing, thanks to the central monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) system that has been set up, since the new rules took effect, to keep track of the country's 1,200 deep sea fishing boats around the clock, according to the Fisheries Agency.
Taiwan has also sent more than 130 inspectors to 32 major harbors around the world to regularly check on Taiwanese fishing boats. It has adopted the Boarding Inspection Procedures, which allows different countries reciprocal high seas boarding and inspection of fishing vessels, according to the agency.
However, nongovernmental organizations, including those in Taiwan, point to the fact that while Taiwan's laws might look good on paper, they are not effective in practice because they often contain loopholes. One of them allows Taiwan-based fishing boat owners to register their boats not in Taiwan, but in small countries without the means to monitor their activity at sea.
By flying a flag of convenience - a non-Taiwanese flag -- the boats are not subjected to any type of monitoring by Taiwan's Fisheries Agency, which has long argued it is not responsible for non-Taiwan registered boats, even though the earnings from the catches are made by Taiwanese businessmen.
Majorenko said that the EU does not just subject a third country wanting to trade fish with its member states to its IUU Regulation, but also applies the same regulation to EU countries.
"It's not we are bullying Taiwan or being nasty to Taiwan, Thailand or Korea. No, we have done it first ourselves and our fishermen didn't like it either," she said. "We all know how vulnerable the fish stocks are these days. We are doing this to preserve the fish and the fishing industry."
What the EU targets are large-scale fishery operators who go across the globe to do industrial fishing in the sea where there has been no control over how much they have fished, she said, rather than small-scale fishermen who have a family to support and are important for the local economy.
Majorenko said that EU officials will arrive in Taiwan at the end of September to inspect the implementation of the rules, which she hopes to be "a final inspection" for them to prepare a decision on Taiwan's IUU compliance and a decision could be made by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, some global and local nongovernmental organizations have expressed the wish that the EU keeps the "yellow card" on Taiwan in place as a way to press the country's fishing companies to improve the working conditions for migrant crew members.
Asked to respond, Majorenko said that there have been some cases of Taiwan's fleets not respecting the human rights of migrant fishermen working on Taiwanese-owned boats, but eventually a decision on the IUU status will be focused on what Taiwan has done to protect fish stocks.
The "yellow card" is to ensure sustainable fishing practices, but the EU will continue to debate with Taiwan's government on migrant workers rights "because it is part of our human rights consultations," Majorenko said.
She was referring to the annual dialogue on human rights between the EU and Taiwan that was first launched in Taipei in March.
The rights of foreign workers, including migrant fishing crew members, domestic caretakers, and industrial workers, are part of the EU-Taiwan Human Rights Consultations, Majorenko said.
"We will not let the issue go. We will not drop the issue. We will just discuss it in another way," she said.